The Death of Reason, the Burial of Faith
Radical New Testament critic John Dominic Crossan, touted by his publisher as being “widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time,” has written a new book called The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. The title is an apt description of his stilted premise, and I found the book both disturbing and astonishing.
For more than 30 years I’ve spent my time in courtrooms as a trial lawyer, a profession that involves evaluating evidence. Such an enterprise always involves an attempt to recreate a recent historical set of facts: the murder of an unfortunate victim, the circumstances of an automobile collision, a business deal gone sour. Getting to the truth is important, and therefore the way lawyers tell the “story” of those events in court both requires and deserves codified rules of evidence.
Let’s examine the most important story about the most important events in world history: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One would assume any scholar’s treatment of that subject should be held to the most exacting historical standard possible.
Crossan’s book is astonishing because he concludes all four Gospels are actually a collection of parables about Jesus—make-believe metaphors rather than facts. So, why should we believe them? Because, he says, Jesus was a historical figure even if we cannot know much about Him.
What we do know, he says, is that Jesus lived a remarkable life, having “cooperated fully with God.” Thus he concludes, “And if one, why not others?” Therefore, Jesus’ life—a mere vapor of uncertainty, according to the author—has only the power of some vague moral example for us today. And apparently, Crossan thinks we should be content with that.
But Christians are not, nor should they be. Crossan’s book focuses on the literary form of the parable, which our Savior indeed used as a teaching tool. But Crossan uses it to explain everything the New Testament says about the life of Christ, reducing the Gospels and Epistles to mere religious fiction about an unknown, but intriguing, historical figure.
As a novelist, when I devise a plotline and fill it in with characters and dialogue, I know I am writing fiction, even if some elements were inspired by actual events. Any sane writer knows the difference. And so did the New Testament writers.
What Crossan describes as a collection of mere religious parables resulted in the authors being beheaded, burned alive, and crucified upside down—clearly a price no writer is willing to pay for works of mere fiction.
I am constantly amazed brilliant men like John Dominic Crossan are willing to go to the most extraordinary lengths to deny the plain words of Scripture. The New Testament writers emphasized that their descriptions of Christ’s life were based on eyewitness evidence, not moral metaphors. Luke explained his Gospel was based on facts “handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” and that it was the result of his “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning,” so the reader could “know the exact truth” about Jesus (Lk. 1:2–4, NASB).
The apostle Peter stressed he and the other disciples were “eyewitnesses” and boldly declared their accounts were not “cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16). The apostle Paul urged early Christians to avoid following myths and fables (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:4; Ti. 1:14).
It could not be clearer: These men, moved by the Holy Spirit and transformed by their encounters with Jesus Christ, were not creating some first-century version of The Da Vinci Code. Their testimonies are corroborated both by their high regard for the standards of evidence and the risk to their own lives.
Sadly, Crossan is like many other smart scholars who insist on seeking natural explanations for the miraculous life of Christ. As a result, he used the obtuse, complex formulas of reason within his own discipline to, in effect, put reason to death.
Another intellectual committed the same error. Jesus told Nicodemus only through faith in Him and by the spiritual new birth that results can anyone see the Kingdom of God. “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” Jesus asked (Jn. 3:10). Nicodemus, no doubt a brilliant teacher, later had a turnaround of faith. He risked his reputation by protesting the unfairness of Jesus’ trial and then risked his life by participating in His anointed burial. We can only pray for a similar change of mind and heart for all the modern-day Nicodemuses out there.