Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is God Thinning the Herd?

A couple of days ago I was listening to the Glen Beck show on the way home from work and he was talking about the coming Swine Flu pandemic. He was trying to make sense of why such diseases occur in our modern scientific world. At one point he sarcastically surmised that there is nothing we can do about these pandemics because they are, “God’s way of thinning the herd.” And, by “herd” he wasn’t referring to pigs! What he was trying to say was that pandemics are normal cycles of disease that sweep through mankind, wiping out large portions of the population. And there is nothing we can do to stop them. The Black Plague of the Middle Ages and the Small Pox epidemic that nearly exterminated the American Indian, were of such a nature. Is God going to thin the human herd with the Swine Flu? And then, after you ask that question you have to ask, why does a good and all powerful God allow such suffering? At one point during the 15th century in American history many of the Puritan colonies experienced a wave of suffering. Storms were sinking ships going back and forth from England . Indians were attacking the settlements. Disease and dissension were also taking a toll on the communities. It was appearing to the colonial ministers that the “Kingdom of God on Earth” was coming apart at the seams. It was so serious that the ministers held a meeting amongst themselves to draft up “Ministerial Jeremiads”. Like the Prophet Jeremiah, who cried out to God on behalf of the sinful people of Israel, the ministers of the Puritan colonies cried out for God’s mercy and drafted up a list of sins that the colonists were committing. They believed that the pattern of Sabbath breaking and a whole host of growing “sinful” practices among the Christians were causing God to bring his disciplining wrath upon them. A call for repentance went out to the communities. Can we know if God is thinning the herd? If he is, can we know the reason he is thinning the herd? There is an entire book in the Bible devoted to the subject of why we suffer. Not only is this the only book in the Bible entirely devoted to the subject, but it is the only place in the Bible that provides the only “sure” response to suffering. It is the book of Job. The book describes Job experiencing some of the most horrific suffering known to mankind. Any normal person would be broken under the circumstances that he endured. Loss of children, loss of all his wealth, and loss of physical health. In our current economic downturn we have seen that loss of wealth alone has brought many a CEO to the point of suicide. In his suffering Job’s wife, friends, and even a theologian, all assure him that they know the reason he is suffering; it is his fault. Job, wisely did not agree with any of them, but sought out an interview with God himself for an answer. Finally, toward the end of the book, God gives Job a hearing. If you, as the reader, didn’t already know how the story was going to end, you would be on the edge of your seat awaiting God’s answer to Job. Indeed, God’s answer is the answer we all want and we are just as eager as Job to know why we suffer! During Job’s hearing with God in the final five chapters of the book, God does one thing. He tells Job the story of creation. These chapters read as a meditation on the greatness of God’s creative work in light of the relative insignificance of mankind. In effect, God says to Job, “I am the Creator and you are the Creature. That is all you need to know, Job. So, trust me.” Job submits to this answer and through his obedience he finds restoration. So, the answer to the question of suffering is that we don’t know why. And, no one knows! One likely response to God’s answer in the book of Job is "anticlimax". The reader built up for this great answer to why we suffer and then he is left at the end in the same place he began. However, another response, which is what the writer wants, is for the reader to be OK with not knowing why. Sweet resignation! We don’t need to know after all, because God is in control and that is enough. Sure, suffering could be the result of personal sin, or a period of God’s just judgment of sinners, or God’s discipline of His children, or God’s desire to teach some lesson. There are lots of possible reasons, but no one really knows. And, if anyone says they do, they probably are trying to scam you.

I am currently working on a construction project at a Hospice. It is occupied with a number of dying people and the turn over rate is constant. One weekend seven people died all at once. When I came in on Monday the hospice staff euphemistically said to me, “The bus came over the weekend.” Glen Beck might have said, “The herd was thinned over the weekend.” I am living among the dying and will be for months while the project is in process. Death is in my face, but because of it, so is God. Because, you see, suffering brings me to the book of Job and the book of Job brings me to who God is, the Creator. "I am the Creator and you are the Creature, Joe." So my response is, my mouth is shut and my heart is at peace.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day: An Occasion to Worship the Creator

My pastor and good friend, Kenneth Garrett, has written a fine piece on his blog today regarding Earth Day. I appreciate Ken's timely response to many of the Earth Day advocates who would have us worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. I encourage you to read Ken's post, which you can access from my blog list. I was planning on writing a post some time in the future on my perspective of nature, but I am going to do it now, since I feel inspired by Ken's post.

Unless you are an Atheist I think everyone agrees that when we engage our 5 senses with the natural world around us we are experiencing God. However, a Christian would say that experiencing God through nature is like that of experiencing a painter through his painting. The painting tells us something about the character, philosophy, intelligence, creativity, and aptitude of the painter. So it is with nature. God is "not" nature anymore than a painting "is" the painter. Therefore, we can know God through what he has made, as Psalm 19:1-6 says,

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

And as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20,

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made...

The Bible teaches us that we can know God through nature, but it also teaches us that God stands apart from nature as its Creator. During the 18th century Enlightenment Deism became the popular definition of God. The scientific God. The God who started it all, but then removed himself from his creation and let nature take it's own course guided by "laws of nature". Deism is most well know by the famous analogy of a person winding up a clock and then letting it go. He is the "Clockwork God". The Bible teaches us that God is both transcendent (apart from his creation) and immanent (involved in his creation). God both creates and sustains nature and so every moment of every day God is at work moving the atoms and shaping the natural world in a fashion that suits his plan, as Colossians 1:15-17 says,

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.

Deism is not the prevailing idea of God today, as it was in the 18th century. Today, we are getting a very different picture of God than what the Deists taught and what the Bible teaches. Today's popular view of God is that He is Pantheistic. Pantheism teaches that "all is one". God, nature and mankind are all essentially the same and simply different manifestations of the same being. Eastern religions like Hinduism and tribal religions like the American Indian are Pantheistic, which is why they identify with animals and can worship nature as, "Mother Earth". The "New Age" movement today is really in to this. The Bible warns us not to worship the creation, but to worship the Creator. This is not just a divine threat, or just about giving credit where it is due, but it is also about the "proper" way to view the world. And, the proper way is the best way. And, the best way is the most beneficial way. When we view nature as a "creation", then we will stand in awe of a "Creator" who is greater than the creation. Certainly we can and should acknowledge that the creation is majestic. However, the majesty ascribed to the creation is taken to another level when we see that a majestic creation is the product of a Creator who must then be even more majestic. Remember the painting/painter analogy? What impresses you more, the painting, or the painter? Furthermore, the greater the painting, the greater the majesty ascribed to the painter. So I say, "glory to God!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pitching A Tarp Tent in the Wilderness

These are some examples of how I have pitched my nylon tarp tent on backpacking trips. Nylon tarps are light weight and versatile. This particular tarp will sleep two people. With a little creativity and practice you can pitch them just about anywhere using rocks, dead branches, trees, etc. All you need to carry is the 1lbs. nylon tarp and string - total weight! Although, you might want to bring light weight stakes if you don't want to be too radical. Be sure to practice pitching the tarp in bad weather conditions, especially wind. It will work well in such conditions, but you should practice "before" you take your friends and family on an outing!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

People Want To Make A Difference In This Life

Today I went in to the office of Ted Jacobsen, Medical Division Manager at Howard S. Wright Constructors, and went on a rant about the City of Portland for delaying a permit for a project we are currently working on. I was frustrated. After a lot of brain storming Ted said to me and another manager working on the project, that we need to go down to the permit office at the city and get the bureaucrats to "help" us. "Help" is not a motivation or ethic I associate with people at the City of Portland. When I go down to the permit office at the City the bureaucrats behind the permit counter are some of the most sour and unhappy people I have ever seen. I have never seen them as helpful, but I have felt pity for them. Ted had another take on these folks. He said, "People want to make a difference in life. If you go down there and show them some appreciation, talk with them, thank them, treat them as people who are the only one's who can help you, you will probably find that they will go on a mission for you. Why? Because people want to make a difference."

About an hour later I talked with my friend Randy Dalzell about the procurement of property he is working on in order to build an indoor sports arena. Randy is the Head Track Coach at Concordia University and Howard S. Wright is trying to help Randy and Mac Wilkins with their efforts to build this arena. Randy also has a lot of potential people out there waiting to jump on the ship to help him get this project built. I don't remember why I said this, but at one point in the conversation I reminded Randy that everyone wanting to participate in this building project is looking for something to gain from it, whether it is money, status, appreciation, etc. But, it struck me after I got off the phone that Ted's explanation is a far better perspective about what motivates people. "People want to make a difference in this life."

After these two conversations I knew that God was affirming this principle to me through Ted. These two conversations today made me turn Ted's statement upon myself as a question, do "I" want to make a difference with "my" life? Emphatically, Yes! I think this is why Ted's statement struck a cord with me. Why do people want to help Randy get the arena built? Why will people at the city permit office help me get that permit pushed through their bureaucratic channels? Why do we serve at our churches and in our communities? Why do we work to help our family members achieve their goals and potential? Well, it could be that the motivation is purely money, fame, a job, appreciation or some other personal "gain". However, at the motivational core of most people I run across, and within the desire of my own heart, it is because people want to make a difference in this life and in the lives of others, pure and simple. And you know what? The greatest personal gain from helping others achieve their goals is that it just feels good to help others! By the way, wasn't it Jesus who eptiomized this ethic,

"do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:3-8)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Magnus Berntsen Is Leaving For Norway

This is a Picture of most of the Concordia University Freshman Throwers. What a great team of throwers and a fine group of young men and women! In the back row, from left to right is: Jesse Staub, Matt Oliva, and Bo Johnson. In the center is Kristine Leonard, Magnus Berntsen, and Sharayah Kenady. Kneeling is Matt Webster. Missing are Eric Wahlen and Emily Redmayne. This year's freshmen throwers have been smashing most of the freshmen throwing records. And, the season is only half over! This picture is from last night's impromptu get together at our house following a chuck wagon style steak dinner. "Meat" is always an excuse for throwers to get together! We also were celebrating a "last supper" with Magnus Berntsen before his departure to Norway. Yes, the sad truth is, Magnus is leaving us. Magnus has been a great addition to Concordia's freshman group and we will all miss him! We hope the very best for you, Magnus! Throw Long!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Continuing Debate on the Historicity of the Gospels: “Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels”, by David Alan Black

Since I have been reading some of the latest literature on the historicity of the Gospels I thought I would ask my good friend, Bob Krupp, if he would weigh in on the controversy. I have known Bob as a Seminary professor and I turned to him as an expert in the field of the early church Fathers. I have been reading so much criticism of the Fathers as a source for the historicity of the Gospels, that I requested of Bob to write a book defending them. Bob wrote back to me and said that the book he would have written has already been written and of course he advised that I should read the book. Coming from a man of Bob’s caliber I immediately Amazoned the book and read it the day it arrived. Here are my thoughts on, “Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels”.

As I began reading the book I understood Bob’s high regard for Black’s work. Black’s theory of the reliability of the Gospels depends entirely on the explanation of the early Church Fathers, such as: Papias of Hierapolis (60-130), Justin (100-165), Irenaeus (130-200), Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Tertullian (160-225), Origen (185-254), Eusebius (260-340), and others. Black lists all the fathers and their statements about the gospels in order to display the weight of Patristic evidence. These Fathers and others of the Ancient Church not only attest to the authority and reliability of the Four Gospels, but provide the historical process of their transmission. But, Black is not promoting his own theory; rather he is seeking to document in writing the theory presented by his colleague and friend, Bernard Orchard of The Gospel Research Institute in London. His theory is called, “The Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis”, which according to these men was the ancient Church’s view of the Gospels. Thus, they simply see themselves as recovering what the Church Fathers taught. The title of the Hypothesis is based on the language of Ireneus, which tells you something about Orchard’s desire to stay close to the early fathers as “The” authorities on the Gospels.

The Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis states that Matthew wrote the first gospel for the original church in Jerusalem, Luke was later commissioned by Paul to support his missionary efforts among the Gentiles, Mark was then written as a dictation of Peter’s lectures given to a Roman audience for the purpose of substantiating Matthew and Luke, and then last John was written to fill in missing information in the previous three Gospels and add critical theological features of Jesus. This is a very different scenario than what is painted by Ehrman and his Historical Critical approach to the Gospels. Ehrman and the critical scholars have adopted the 18th century Enlightenment theory that Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke were written, but depended on Mark and a now lost source known as “Q”. “Q” would be the source information not contained in Mark. This theory is often called the, “Markan Priority”. Orchard and Black offer another explanation for the formation of Mark, which follows the accounts given by Clement of Alexandria. Mark is seen as a “bridge” gospel between Matthew and Luke. Clement says that Peter gave a series of lectures to a Roman audience which was then written down at the request of the Romans who were in attendance. Peter's assistant, Mark, wrote down the lectures, which became the Gospel of Mark. Orchard and Black have concluded that Peter used the scrolls of Matthew and Luke for his lecture material (to support Matthew and Luke as authentic gospels), but also including his own eyewitness experience (material include in Mark, but not Matthew and Luke). To Orchard and Black, this makes more sense than hypothesizing about a mysterious “Q” document that filled in the blanks between Mark and the other Gospels. Besides, with the historical documents provided by the Fathers, Black has the advantage over the Historical Critical approach by the fact that there has never been another source for the Gospels discovered, nor has another source been referred to anywhere in the history of the early church.

The key to accepting the Four-Fold Gospel Hypothesis is, of course, the acceptance of the church fathers as an accurate source of information about the historicity of the Gospels. So, Black spends more than 10% of the book cogently defending the Fathers as reliable sources of information. One of the most ironic facts Black uses to support the reliabililty of the Fathers is the current scholarship on Greek and Roman ancient history. These scholars, unlike the Historical Critical scholars of the Gospels, see the Church Fathers as completely reliable. Also, one of the interesting charges that Ehrman levels against the Fathers in his book, “Jesus Interrupted” is that the Gospels were anonymously written and only later was the authorship ascribed to the Gospels. This was done in order to give them apostolic authority to ward off other heretical writings. Black agrees that it wasn’t until the debates over heresy began in the middle of the second century that we find written attestation by the fathers that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the authors, but he argues that apostolic authorship was never an issue. Authorship wasn’t officially affirmed in writing until the heresy debates began.

From a literary perspective, the book’s 90 pages are very readable and easily read in one evening. It is written as a summary of the Four-Fold Gospel Hypothesis and is not written for the scholar. So, in this sense it is a very good comparison read with Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted”, which is also not a scholarly presentation. One difference, however, is that Ehrman is broader in his scope and seeks to deal with a lot of other controversies beside the transmission of the Gospels. For instance, Black does not deal with any of the conflicts between the gospels, where Ehrman does. Black’s book will keep you focused on one issue, the reliable transmission of the Gospels. You'll have to get the conflicts answered in another book.

As I was reading Ehrman’s, “Jesus Interrupted” I felt strongly that this was a dangerous book for an uninformed reader. Ehrman presents his “Historical Critical” case that the Gospels are largely legendary without any question or debate. In fact, Ehrman even told the story in his book that when he lectures in churches about his Historical Critical Gospel theory people are often shaken in their faith and wonder why they have never heard of this view of the Gospels before. Well, he never suggests that his view is controversial and unorthodox! He simply asserts that the Historical Critical approach, that led him to distrust the Gospels, is unquestionable fact and accepted by the Biblical scholarship at large. It is very intimidating. However, when you read authors such as Bauckham and Black you find a very different and compelling approach in support of the historicity of the Gospels. This book read in conjunction with Bauckham’s, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” provides a very persuasive argument that the Gospels are real history. I like being fair and the stakes for truth are high, so I would recommend reading Ehrman and Black "before" making any conclusions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

John Muir, Here We Come!

It’s official! I now have a companion with which to hike the John Muir trail. Tom Willard is a long time family friend and Sierra adventurer who lives in Los Angeles. I had always hoped that one day I could join up with Tom to share a trail high on the Sierran ramparts and now I am going to do it. The photo above is of Tom Willard and his girl friend on Mt. Langley in the Sierras, just south of Mt. Whitney. In fact, you can see the cloud shaded hulk of Mt. Whitney on the horizon at the center of the photo. Ascending Whitney is part of the John Muir Trail experience. I believe Tom has hiked most of the John Muir Trail, but has never done it in one event, as we shall now do. The last time I was in the Sierras was 13 years ago when Pam and I hiked the Evolution Basin portion of the trail, whereas Tom has been hiking the Sierras every summer for 20 plus years! We will set out on our adventure from Yosemite Valley on August 24th and finish 220 miles later on September 6th at the Whitney Portal, just below Mt Whitney.

Since Tom and I are in our 50s and plan on doing approximately 20 miles per day, we will be looking for every advantage possible to make our trek both possible and pleasant. We will have at least three food parcels delivered to us over the course of the 220 mile venture and we will be practicing a “minimalist” gear philosophy. Translated, that means we won’t have many creature comforts. I doubt that this means we will use pine cones in place of toilet paper, but it does mean that we will only use gear made of light weight materials and take only what we “need”.

But why spend two weeks of one’s precious vacation time living in hardship? I can feel the pain right now, just thinking about it. Oh the huffing and puffing of long grinding ascents up the mountain passes! Oh the discomfort of sleeping on cold hard ground! Oh the wind-driven cold rain that pelts the Sierras every late afternoon! Why not head for the comfort of the beach resort, or ski resort, for some well deserved R&R? John Muir stated his reason, “The Mountains are calling and I must go!” There is a side of me that just cannot resist the call of the wild. Ever the student of human nature as well as mountain nature, Muir understood that wilderness adventuring is an innately human impulse. He said in another place, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” There is something about wilderness wandering that restores my soul and fills my inner man. I cannot explain this adequately in words, for it is not words that grasp the experience of mountain wilderness, but sensation. When I am high up in the Sierras my eyes see ancient cathedrals, my skin tingles with the crisp clean mountain air, my nose smells every altitude magnified scent, and my ears hear the still small voice of God. As I see it, God is calling and I must go.



Monday, April 6, 2009

Are The Gospels Historically Reliable? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s, "Jesus, Interrupted", and Richard Bauckham’s, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses"

These are two of the latest and most compelling books written on the subject of the historicity of the Gospels. Bauckham’s book came out in 2006 and Ehrman’s in 2009. The books are written in very different styles and with different purposes. Ehrman’s book was written on a more popular level, while Bauckham’s book is written in the style of a doctoral dissertation. Reading Bauckham is like being served a meal, but he first takes you in to the kitchen to show you the recipes and process of how the meal is cooked. Ehrman’s book is the meal without the explanations. So, Bauckham is a more thorough, but complicated read. I felt like I had to plow through Bauckham to get to the interesting insights, because he spends so much time taking you to his sources and building his case. Ehrman was more enjoyable to read. You don’t have to know arguments A, B, and C in order to understand argument D, as you do with Bauckham. But, Bauckham is covering new ground with his ideas, so he does the right thing as a scholar to provide careful reasoning and support. Ehrman is no less scholarly than Bauckham, but Ehrman is writing to the masses who do not know about the controversy over the historicity of the Gospels. Part of his stated purpose is to expose the masses of church going Christians to the 200 year old system of Historical Criticism, which views the gospels as non-historical. He claims that the reason most Christians don’t know about this method of doing history is because scholars have not communicated it on a level that people can understand. He also blames it on seminary trained students who have not properly taught their congregations that the Gospels are unreliable historically. But, he never concludes that maybe these students do not agree with the Historical Critical Method. Rather, he attributes the confusion to the pastoral interest to see the Gospels as devotional rather than historical.

Ehrman’s thesis is that the gospels were written by unknown authors far removed from the actual events, who wrote in different places with differing agendas. This is why the gospels are full of discrepancies and therefore cannot be trusted to give us the real history of Jesus. Bauckham’s thesis is that the gospels were biographical accounts of Jesus’ life written within the living memory of the eyewitnesses and that the eyewitness testimony of the disciples was the basis for the written Gospels. Therefore, the Gospels can be trusted to give us the real history of Jesus. Here are several reasons Bauckham and Ehrman are diametrically opposed to each other:

First, and most foundational, they have differing theories of how we should "do" historical analysis of the Gospels. Ehrman explains that the Historical Critical method requires a skeptical and disinterested analysis of the text of the Bible, as well as comparing the texts with other related documents of the period. By “disinterested” he means you cannot have a theological or personal interest in the outcome of the study of the text. You want to let the text speak for itself without any bias, so that you can let the chips fall where they may. For instance, you cannot bring with you to the study of the Gospels the assumption that God inspired the text of the Gospels. That would be a theological interest that would keep a scholar from getting to the real history behind the text. Bauckham appears to be a textual critic, but unlike Ehrman he is not skeptical of the gospels as real history. His study leads him to the conclusion that ancient historians at the time of Christ had a very high view of historical accuracy because of their trust in eyewitness testimony. Bauckham’s theory of historical knowledge is based on what the ancient historians thought about history, whereas Ehrman’s theory applies a modernist skeptical understanding of history.

Second, Ehrman and Bauckham have conflicting views of how the history of Jesus was transmitted and then written down as the Gospels. Ehrman sees the transmission of the eyewitness testimonies as “oral tradition”. That is, the witnesses testified originally to one or more people and then the story was retold to the next person or group and so on down the line. Finally, after countless transmissions of the stories the gospels were written down as fragments with the gospels as the final product. The fragments were the basis for the synoptic gospels, written between 35 and 65 years after Jesus died. He compares the impossibility of trusting this kind of historical transmission with the well known example of the telephone game. A story is told to one person, then that person tells the story to the next person, so that by the time it passes through several people it is a different story. (pg. 147). Bauckham sees Ehrman’s theory as outdated and wrong headed, based on how the Ancients actually “did” their history. To him, the Historical Critical method of Ehrman does not take the Ancients seriously. Actually, Bauckham’s whole book is a refutation of the kind of historical theory that Ehrman espouses. I think this is what makes the comparison reading of these two books interesting. Bauckham makes the case that the Ancients were very distrustful of any historical accounts that were not rooted in eyewitness testimony and which were not written during the “living witness” of the person who witnessed the events. In other words, the gospel writers wrote down what was testified to them by the actual witnesses, or by trusted elders of the Christian Community who carefully preserved the testimony of the witnesses. The discrepancies or contradictions can be accounted for by the nature of the gospel literature as biographies and the various perspectives from which the witnesses saw the events unfold. Bauckham never deals with the actual discrepancies, as Ehrman does, but that is not his purpose. However, it is clear from the development of this theory that he would not see them as irreconcilable.

Third, Ehrman and Bauckham have a very different understanding of the reliability of eyewitness accounts. Basic to Bauckham’s theory is the reliability of testimonial evidence. He builds a case for accepting testimonial evidence as a valid means of gaining historically accurate information. He claims that it is as valid epistemologically as inference, perception and memory. He acknowledges that it requires trust and cross examination, but we can ultimately rely on it. After all, this is how the Ancients understood the recording of history; they would have been careful. Furthermore, Bauckham has a persuasive chapter on “Eyewitness Memory” where he develops his theory that eyewitness recollection, as in the case of the gospels, is highly reliable as a source of history. He builds his case upon memory studies and theory. Ehrman completely overlooks this kind of possibility and dismisses the eyewitness concept of history within the space of one paragraph, essentially “declaring” eyewitness testimony unreliable (page. 103). Bauckham builds a case that demonstrates the gospels to be eyewitness accounts that were embraced by the leadership and community of the earliest churches. The stories were kept faithfully in tact, according to Bauckham. He bases much of his support for this upon Papias, an early church historian. Papias’ writings do not survive, but fragments of his writings are recorded within the writings of others contemporary to him. Papias was a second generation believer who claimed to know “the elders” who had known the original disciples. Papias provides a history that supports the authorship of the gospels by Mark and Matthew based on the eyewitness testimony of the disciples. For instance, he claimed that Peter’s testimony was the basis for Mark’s gospel. Ehrman addresses the Papias question, but dismisses Papias as unreliable and therefore untrustworthy.

I must say that I found myself appreciative of Ehrman’s clear and fair presentation of the problems with the gospels. He showed a number of apparent contradictions between the Gospels that I think every thinking student of the Bible must deal with. However, I came away distrustful of Ehrman’s conclusions. He often makes the claim that the Bible is “full” of contradictions, which renders them untrustworthy. His chapter titles are very suggestive of this kind of “all-or-nothing” conclusion, “A World of Contradictions”, “A Mass of Variant Views”. He leaves no room for discussion about whether or not the discrepancies in the gospel texts can be reconciled. He does not present any opposing arguments. He simply states that the discrepancies are impossible to reconcile. But, what about Bauckham’s theory of the Ancient concept of doing history? Ehrman does not even address this theory, which appears to be a very valid approach. For all the claims that the Historical Critical Scholars make about being “historical” in their scholarship, I don’t see Ehrman addressing Bauckham’s historical approach to history. Perhaps he dismisses it as non-sense and unworthy of consideration?

Ehrman concludes the book with his understanding of who the “real” Jesus of history is. But, if we cannot trust the gospels to give us the “real” history, as Ehrman argues, then what is his source? As with all such historical critics Ehrman is left with a “pick-and-choose” approach to the Gospels for the discovery of the historical Jesus. A major criticism of those who utilize the Historical Critical Method to find the real historical Jesus is that the Historian creates his own Jesus. If you read those who follow Ehrman’s historical methodology you get a different picture of Jesus from each historian. There is the Jesus of John Dominic Crossan, who sees Jesus as, “The Wise Sage”. There is Marcus Borg’s Jesus, who he sees as, “The Man of the Spirit”. There is Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, who he presents in this book as, “The Apocalyptic Prophet”. And so on…. Of course, this is understandable if the gospels are not completely historical. You have to cherry pick what you think is true and what is not. But, how is this more trustworthy than accepting an eyewitness testimony in the Gospels as historical? I think a follower of Bauckham’s theory would be able to see a much more objective picture of who Jesus was, because the sources are the four historically trustworthy gospels. Every scholar is on the same playing field when defining the historical Jesus and so you get a more unified picture of him.

My own view is that I’ll stick with the Apostle Peter’s presentation of the historical Jesus, who said, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. II Peter 1:16