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Thursday, February 10, 2011

book report: The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster (2011)


Charles is very direct in the preface to his new book, The Jesus Inquest,
I saw that a common method of Christian argument was to say: "Professor Smith thinks that the Christians are correct, and he has an enormous brain and lots of degrees." That's the method of Lee Strobel uses, and I'm afraid it's not impressive...You don't decide the truth of propositions by comparing the brain weights of people who believe them with the brain weights of the people who don't. p.x
I agree with his premise, but I'm not sure it was necessary to throw Strobel under the bus. It's Strobel's personal story of coming to Christ, who is Foster to criticize it? I think his barb might better apply to McDowell's book, Evidence that demands a verdict, which is a very large outline in book form with abudnant quotes from everyone. But, again, McDowell is writing for a younger audience. Foster is writing for a more demanding audience. When he isn't writing apologetic books in defense of Christianity, he is a barrister, a lawyer in American english. He understands debate. He understands the best arguments come from the best understanding of the counter arguments. So he immersed himself in the critical literature, both skeptical and faithful and produced the arguments for and against the historical Jesus who died and rose again. The skeptical arguments are convincingly argued. He made me doubt. In fact, he admits in the epilogue that his research into the skeptical sources almost stumbled his faith. After every presentation of the skeptical position on the topic of the chapter, he puts on his other hat and counter argues for the orthodox historic understanding of Christ. He even dialogs with Muslim arguments against Christ's crucifixion. It's really good, but really hard reading, not because Foster is a bad writer, but technical arguments are generally boring to the mainstream audience. On the other hand, I'm sure specialists will complain he did not cover all the nuances, but at 384 pages, he couldn't go on and on. However, for the specialists, his footnotes are abundant so his sources can be checked and followed up.

He did not do much with my favorite defense, the martyrdom of the witnesses, basically one paragraph, but a good one. The two positions in the book are represented by X, the skeptic, and Y, the believer. He writes, as Y,
X acknowledges the bravery of these men [the martyred disciples]. But he says it wasn't the resurrection...that drove them. And he points out that the fact that people martyr themselves for a cause doesn't prove the truth of that cause...There is no parallel with the suicide bombers. They are in no position to know whether or not the cause for which they die is true. They simply believe it passionately and pathologically. To die for what you believe to be true is one thing; to die for what you know to be untrue is quite another. These early martyrs, remember, were the witnesses of what they were preaching. If the tomb was not really empty, they knew. If the resurrection appearances did not occur, they knew. If the resurrection appearances "occurred" only in a subjective sense, inside the heads and psyches of the individuals, they knew. If Christianity was bogus or evidentially shaky, they knew. pp. 259-260.
The finesse he puts on this argument is typical of most of those presented in the book, even those of the skeptic. Part of his finesse, is he is not an American inerrantist. He is comfortable with a Bible with mistakes in it. He does not attempt to harmonize things in the gospels that disagree. I want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, that they weren't idiots, that they knew what each other wrote and even referenced common sources, so story conflicts, in my opinion, should be reconcilable. Also, he is comfortable with assuming the original end of Mark's gospel is lost. He probably won't get invited to many American evangelical conferences, but I'm sure the conservatives in England are perfectly comfortable with him. I hope I can get a skeptic to read this to tell me if the skeptical arguments are fairly presented, but like I said earlier, he had me doubting at some points.

Overall, if you are willing to wade into this book with your thinking cap on and your work boots laced up, I think you will get a great deal from it. It's not for the faint of heart.

Booksneeze gave me the book for review in exchange for my unbiased review.

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2 comments:

tweedpipe said...

John. Thanks so much for this thoughtful and robust view. I'm glad that the book was useful.
All best wishes.
Charles (Foster)

John Umland said...

Thank you very much for writing it Charles and thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I'm sorry for the 1 and 2 star reviews at amazon from people who complained the reading was too hard. It's a hard subject.
God is good
jpu