There are lots of silly ideas about Jesus going around these days. While fringe scholars have always offered their crackpot theories, we live in a day and age where these authors can actually get a hearing. Ludicrous ideas about Jesus Christ are promoted all over the Internet, and books providing outlandish theories of Christ are consumed by hundreds of thousands.
In his new book “Fabricating Jesus”, Craig Evans turns a critical eye towards these distortions of the life of Christ. He criticizes two problems with what he terms the “New Skepticism.” The first problem is misplaced faith- placing one’s faith in the wrong things. Even many Christians are guilty of this problem. Faith may be placed in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, or it may depend on us being able to fully harmonize the Gospels. While biblical inerrancy may be an important doctrine, it is unwise to place our faith wholeheartedly on this belief. Misplaced faith can lead to apostasy, and one very prominent example is Bart Ehrman. Ehrman seemed to place so much emphasis on the inerrancy of Scripture that, when he began to doubt this doctrine, it led to the destruction of his faith in Christ. Evans rightly points out that this is a case of severely misplaced priorities. It also explains why some ultra-fundamentalist preachers eventually convert to atheism and become the most intense critics of the Christian worldview. They have placed their faith in the wrong thing.
The second problem is misguided skepticism, which usually follows from unreasonable assumptions that Jesus’ contemporaries were incapable or uninterested in accurately recalling the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Misguided skepticism also follows from overly strict critical methods and unproven assumptions. Some of these assumptions- such that Jesus had no interest in Scripture, or that Jesus had no interest in eschatology, flatly contradict the general tenor of Christ’s message as recorded in the New Testament. These assumptions thus artificially restrict the types of things that Jesus might have said or done during his earthly ministry.
After discussing the general problems with the new skepticism, Evans goes on to discuss some particulars. He criticizes the authenticity and validity of the apocryphal writings favored by some critics of classical Christianity. Even though renowned scholars like John Dominic Crossan have made much of these documents, Evans thoroughly demonstrates that these documents are all late, of dubious authenticity, and totally lacking credibility.
Moreover, Evans criticizes the way that liberal and fringe scholars completely divorce Jesus from his historical and social setting in order to advance their theories. Evans reminds his readers that Jesus was a Jew, who lived in a thoroughly Jewish town. Thus, those scholars who try to turn Jesus into a wandering Jewish Cynic or some sort of pagan philosopher have completely lost touch with the historical facts.
Finally, a common theme advocated by some scholars is the idea of multiple Christianities in the first century. Rather than speak of Christianity as a monolithic religious tradition, scholars like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman advocate the plural idea of “Christianities.” Evans counters this idea by demonstrating that, while there were some conflicts within the Christian church about peripheral doctrinal matters in the first century, there was unity on the person, work, and necessity of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. The only way to find other Christianities is to illegitimately import 2nd century documents into the 1st century.
In the final chapter, Evans takes a positive approach to uncover what we can about the true person of Jesus Christ. He argues that the evidence actually favors the classical Christian conception of Christ’s person and work. Although some may balk at his conservative views, Evans is actually very fair throughout and he does not overstate his case.
Fabricating Jesus is an essential book for the times because someone needs to counter the fringe theories propounded by critics of Christianity. Some of these theories are so incredible that real scholars virtually ignore them, but it is important for the sake of the man on the street that resources be available to answer these kinds of questions. Evans’ does an admirable job of setting the historical record straight without slipping into simple-minded conservatism. The result is a book well worth reading.