Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus

juf.jpgWilkins, Michael J. and J.P. Moreland, eds.

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus

Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995. Pp. ix + 243. Paper. $14.99.

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With thanks to Chris Fann at Zondervan for this review copy!

Jesus Under Fire is a collection of essays from some of the top evangelical scholars that we’ve come to know and love over the years.  Some of my favorites include Craig Evans, Gary Habermas, Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, and Darrell Bock, among others.  While this book is no doubt an apologetic aimed primarily against the Jesus Seminar it doesn’t take an overly-polemical tone in the various essays presented.  These scholars are simply happy to challenge the Seminar’s presuppositions and methodology and undermine their conclusions with facts.

My first thought when I received this book was that it was going to be outdated and pretty much useless, but I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked by what I found when reading through this volume.  I was pleasantly surprised because the information contained within this book is remarkably relevant for today.  Gary Habermas’ defense of miracles and William Lane Craig’s defense of the resurrection of Jesus are as poignant now as they were in 1996 when this book was originally published.  But I was shocked to see that there haven’t been great apologetic advances in the last dozen years.  Most of the contributors have written book-length treatments of the topics covered in this volume (although not necessarily on the topic they addressed) since its publication in 1996 and shockingly, they haven’t advanced their position much, if at all.

For example, in Gary Habermas’ book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [2004] co-authored with Mike Licona (review here), he did little to advance beyond Craig’s chapter in this volume “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” [p. 141-176].  They both relied heavily on Paul (esp. 1Cor. 15), used the criteria of authenticity (e.g., multiple attestation, dissimilarity, embarrassment, etc.), and advanced the New Testament resurrection accounts as that with the best explanatory power.  The same can be said of books like Dethroning Jesus [2007] (review here) or Reinventing Jesus [2006] (review here) which mount strong arguments for the reliability of the New Testament documents based on the oral culture of the first century authors.  In doing so they haven’t really advanced much from Darrell Bock’s chapter “The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?” [p. 73-99].  Even in Bock’s Studying the Historical Jesus [2002], he hasn’t gone far beyond Edwin Yamauchi’s “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?” [p. 207-229].

Now I don’t say this to impugn the character of these later works–in fact they are all very good books that cover a multitude of topics and address a multitude of arguments, and reading them has helped me very much over the last couple of years–but I think that this speaks to just how strong of a book this must have been when it was first published.  In 1996 my mind was far from Jesus and even farther from Christian apologetics, but I imagine that this book was a force to be reckoned with at the time.  I can’t really imagine those who buy into the Jesus Seminar rhetoric having much of a response for this book now-a-days, let alone having much to say back then.

However, I can’t say that I learned a great deal from this book, but I admit that’s only because I’ve read Fabricating Jesus (review here), The Missing Gospels (review here), and all of those other works mentioned above prior to receiving this volume.  I don’t know that I’d recommend this volume to the newcomer though, and that’s only because I don’t believe that anyone really take the Jesus Seminar seriously anymore and this volume obviously didn’t deal prophetically with some of the concerns of today such as the Talpiot Tomb nonsense, or the Gospel of Judas discovery.

I would say this, if you are interested in Christian Apologetics, especially a defense of the historical Jesus, then this volume would be a welcome, even if superfluous addition to your library.  If I were rating this book in 1996 I’d give it a strong three stars without question, and to be quite honest, seeing as how I don’t think the arguments of the last 12 years have advanced significantly, I’ll still honor it with a strong three star rating.3.0 out of 5 starsHad they opted for footnotes instead of chapter end notes then the rating could have easily jumped up a star.


8 thoughts on “Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus

  1. This was my go-to book in the old days on Compuserve when the Jesus Seminar and Historical Jesus was even more the rage. Very good articles that introduced me to a number of scholars’ work.

  2. Chuck: I agree. I can imagine how helpful this book was originally. I think it would still be very helpful now to people not aquainted with the debates concerning the Historical Jesus.

  3. I’ve read and used that one during my undergrad degree. It’s quite scholarly. Some of the essays I’ve enjoyed more than others. It’s largely a response to the Jesus Seminar camp as Chuck hinted.

  4. Man I am so sick of reading books responding to the Jesus seminar. Although I’m still looking forward to reading LT Johnson since he’s just a great writer.

    Still this book sounds like a good resource.

  5. It sounds like an interesting book. I need to read up more on how evangelical theological scholarship views the historical Jesus. I’ve read some from a liberal perspective but not enough like this. Thanks for bringing this book to light Nick.

  6. Bryan L: I hear ya, but you have to remember that this was one of the original books responding to the Jesus Seminar. Like I said, if you’ve read all the newer apologetic books then this one isn’t really necessary, but I bet in its day this was the book to turn to.

    Kevin: Any time. This would be a good start to see how evangelicals address the subject for sure. Like I said in the review, most of the books that I’ve read which have been published in the 12 years since this book came out haven’t advanced significantly in terms of argument or evidence. I think their strong points are that they address some newer issues that weren’t prevalent when this work was written.

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