The search for the historical Jesus continues to be headline news. Any speculative theory seems to get instant attention as the debate rages about His real identity and the claims made in His name. Did Jesus really exist? Is there real historical evidence that demonstrates that He lived and actually said and did the things the Gospels record? Is there any validity to the speculative claims that the Jesus story was a myth, borrowed from a variety of pagan cultures of the ancient world?
In this follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead (that inspired the movie), Man, Myth, Messiah looks at the evidence for the historical Jesus and exposes the notions of skeptics that Jesus was a contrived figure of ancient mythology. It also looks at the reliability of the Gospel records as well as the evidence for the resurrection that validates His identity as the promised Messiah. Man, Myth, Messiah will be released concurrent to the God’s Not Dead movie sequel, which will cover the same theme.
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Man, Myth, Messiah
Answering History's Greatest Question
By Rice Broocks
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Rice Broocks
All rights reserved.
Man, Myth, or Messiah?
History's Greatest Question
There is no historical task which so reveals a man's true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus. — Albert Schweitzer
IT'S ONE OF THE STRANGE QUIRKS OF HUMAN NATURE that we tend to believe wild and absurd things while doubting and dismissing the credible and important.
This tendency to give credence to foolish and baseless speculations was satirized on the long-running US TV show Saturday Night Live. It ranks as one of my favorite comedy skits of all time. It was the one where there was an exchange between an angel and someone who had recently died and gone to heaven. The new arrival was quizzing the angel on all the unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries of his past existence. The dialogue went something like this: "What happened to the fifty-dollar bill I lost at graduation?" and "Who had a crush on me that I didn't know about?" You get the picture. Finally, heaven's newest inductee asked "What is the one thing that would surprise me the most if I knew it?" The character playing the angel dramatically paused and then said, "Professional wrestling is real."
I guess what struck me as funny is that I've actually met people who believed that TV wrestling was authentic (and not staged entertainment); my grandmother was one of them. Of course, there are many people who consider silly things, such as UFOs or Elvis sightings, to be real. As Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, "The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great things, indicates a strange inversion."
This highlights the tendency to deny events that should be believed, like the Holocaust or Americans walking on the moon and the fact that 9/11 was a terrorist attack carried out by radical Muslims, not a conspiracy of the US government.
Regrettably the amount of misinformation and rumor is rampant in an age where every outlandish viewpoint has its own website and Facebook page. Finding the truth becomes hard work. It also requires our being willing to accept it, regardless of our own personal preferences or biases. In other words, we must be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
While many spurious beliefs are relatively harmless and inconsequential, others could have devastating consequences, especially if real history is obscured or ignored. This was never more obvious to me than when visiting sites like the World War II Nazi concentration camps, such as the one in Auschwitz, Poland. Walking through massive rooms of shoes, suitcases, and hair in what remains of this testimony to hell on earth will dismiss any absurd suggestion that the Holocaust never happened. Millions of Jews were murdered in one of humankind's darkest moments.
The same can be said of a trip to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It is simply outrageous that someone could deny that these unthinkable events did not occur just seventy short years ago.
Forgetfulness of this kind is intentional — a deliberate refusal to remember. This seems to be an all-too-familiar pattern in history. That's because remembering is hard work that requires all our faculties to be unencumbered by bias and personal agendas. These types of painful memories bring us back to the reality of the shameful proclivity in human nature toward cruelty and injustice. If left unchecked and unaccountable, the strong will dominate the weak and helpless, rather than stand up and defend them — especially at the risk of losing our own lives or credibility.
It is because of this fatal flaw in human nature that God sent His own Son in the likeness of humans to walk among us and model the antithesis of this kind of self-centeredness. Jesus Christ lived a life that went against that strong current of history. He lived the life that we should have lived, one that was morally and ethically spotless. No other figure in human history could or would make such a claim to be without sin — Jesus did. For this reason, it was the most unique and important life in history — one we cannot dismiss or ignore.
Yet something so precious and amazing is rejected as an impossibility by skeptics who readily accept absurd and irrational explanations of our existence, especially if they are devoid of any moral implications. They frame all religious beliefs in a one-size-fits-all framework and dismiss it with the charge that faith is blind, or, as they love to say, "faith is believing what you know isn't true."
As atheist writer Michael Shermer states, "Religious faith depends on a host of social, psychological and emotional factors that have little or nothing to do with probabilities, evidence and logic."
Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are many who believe in God without being aware of all the evidence and logic attesting to its truth, this doesn't mean that the evidence and logic don't exist. If you believe in God and are a follower of Christ, that faith is well grounded in history and reason — real faith isn't blind. Yet the Scripture warns, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6 NKJV).
If we desire to not be engulfed by a tsunami of digital absurdity, we must find the solid foundation of something that is true and trustworthy. It's much easier to sit back and flow with what the culture is saying about something rather than sincerely and objectively searching for the truth, regardless of where the evidence may lead.
Every person has the right to know the truth (facts) and make his own decision. With that said, there are definitely pitfalls and dangerous, dark alleys in which you can get mugged and stripped of your faith. It's worth repeating: the voices you listen to in this journey of faith and discovery are critical.
God's Not Dead Revisited
After thirty years of working with university students around the world, I decided to write down the arguments for the existence of God in what I hoped would be a straightforward, concise manner. That effort became the book God's Not Dead. It gave a glimpse into the emotionally charged debate that rages between these two opposing views of the world — materialism (atheism) and theism. This is not a friendly discussion. Though there are voices of reason and moderation on both sides, the usual fare is a shouting match of insults rather than arguments, and rhetoric rather than reason. I have been overwhelmed with responses from believers of all ages and backgrounds, who told me the stories of how the voices of intolerance did everything possible to silence their views because they were Christians. They, too, had to take a stand at the risk of losing credibility, grades from a teacher, or even their occupations.
For the follower of Christ, there is a fierce conflict on two distinct fronts. On one side is the challenge we have mentioned of materialism and atheism. The materialist believes that nature is all there is. The world and everything in it can be explained by natural causes with no need for any "supernatural shenanigans," as physicist and atheist Lawrence Krauss puts it. The theistic worldview believes that the order and information in the physical universe point to an intelligent mind behind it all. Information itself is a nonmaterial entity with no mass or physical quality. To the materialist, this defeats the notion that only physical things are real. The nonmaterial nature of information joins the list of other nonphysical realities that scientists depend on to make their hypotheses, observations, measurements, and conclusions. These include mathematics, reason, and the laws of logic. Science itself rests on the assumption that these things are true.
The proponents of the atheistic worldview hope we don't notice that this view doesn't rest on cold, hard facts but rather on a set of presuppositions. It claims to be the worldview endorsed by a majority of the top scientists and thus the only conclusion of the rational and scientifically literate mind. Life is merely a product of random chance and purely natural forces. Since there was no real beginning to humanity, we are just a branch in the evolutionary tree of life; therefore, there is no sin to atone for and no need for a Savior. Life is simply a struggle where the fittest survive. The rest face extinction. We are reduced to being animals programmed by our DNA to survive.
The cloak of academic pretense must be drawn back in order to see the true influence behind this brand of atheism and radical skepticism: the philosophy of naturalism. Contrary to Stephen Hawking's pronouncement that "philosophy is dead," the writings of the popular atheists demonstrate that bad philosophy is still thriving in the darkness of the unbelieving mind.
The reality is we don't act just like a group of animals struggling to survive. We can think philosophically about the human condition, create ways to remedy injustice wherever it is found, and serve the poor and needy. These actions that help the weak and infirm do not logically follow from an evolutionary instinct or survival point of view. In fact, Darwin said we are hindering the evolutionary process by these acts of inexplicable altruism. Instead, this comes naturally to us because we have been instilled with a moral law that reflects our distinction as humans, made in the image of God. Contrary to Darwin, Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). This is exactly what Jesus did in laying down His own life to pay for our sins by His death on a Roman cross. He now calls us to love and serve others in His name.
On the other side of the Christian struggle is the challenge that stems from the fact that there are many religions in the world and many contradictory voices describing what God is like and what this God expects of us.
With all the religions in the world, which one is right?
Is it just a matter of sincerity? How can they all be right when, as we shall see, the truth claims of the world's religions are mutually exclusive? In other words, by their own testimonies, they all can't be right. Some believe in one personal God, others in multiple deities, and some in an impersonal force. There are millions of people who will never question what they have been told and blindly follow their cultural beliefs and the faith of their parents. But there are millions more who will examine what they have been told in light of the free market of ideas. They will desire to know what is actually true over what is culturally preferred. That which is really true can withstand the scrutiny of historical, philosophical, and rational inquiry. The very essence of truth is that it is true regardless of culture or context.
God calls us to follow Him with our hearts and minds. We may start out with the faith of our parents, but we must make it our own. Usually this is very hard work. Every religion is based on claims that must be tested in light of history, philosophy, science, and theology. They all make claims that can and should be compared and contrasted. They make claims that can't all be true. For instance, the Koran states that Jesus was not crucified (Sura 4:157-58). The Bible obviously states that not only was He was crucified; He was also raised from the dead. As we will discuss thoroughly in this book, the overwhelming evidence accepted by historians is that Jesus was crucified at the hands of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. It doesn't just come down to who can shout the loudest to determine the truth or falsity of the critical statements that the different religions and philosophies make.
We can, and must, be able to make these kinds of clear distinctions between competing claims for truth. The hope from the very beginning of the initial God's Not Dead project was to help people fulfill 1 Peter 3:15, "Always be prepared ... to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
A couple of years ago, I took my youngest son, Charlie, on a wilderness journey that was advertised as taking you beyond your comfort zone. He kept telling me, "But I like my comfort zone. Why would I want to get out of it?" There were series of daunting challenges, including a white-water rafting trip. Thankfully, we had a guide on this trip across a series of rapids. Listening to that voice of experience about when to lean left or right, when to paddle, or when to lift our oars out of the water, allowed us to miss a host of dangerous rocks that could have upended us or injured us severely. The people who have injured their faith or lost it altogether because of listening to the wrong voices are too many to count. I am grateful for the mentors I've had that have helped me navigate through the skeptical challenges to the truth of the Christian faith. My hope is to help readers avoid the things that cause a shipwrecking of their trust in God. This starts with accepting a fact that is indeed beyond dispute: Jesus really did exist.
Faith or History?
The fact of Jesus' existence brings the discussion about Him out of the realm of just religious faith into the arena of historical investigation. If someone is intellectually honest, he should at least examine the evidence for His life as he would any other person who lived, such as Socrates, Caesar Augustus, or Napoleon. The evidence for His life shouldn't be dismissed ahead of time because of the awareness of an extraordinary conclusion, one that might be ominously waiting at the end of the search.
When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words. The specific criteria used by many modern scholars to verify the authenticity of Jesus have been so demanding that if they were applied to ancient history, most of what is currently accepted would dissolve into oblivion. For instance, imagine asserting, as skeptics do for the biblical records, that we could only know about ancient Rome from what we learn from non-Roman sources. In contrast, scholars who use trusted approaches fairly and consistently recognize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are solidly guarded in historical fact. As stated in Reinventing Jesus, "If you are skeptical of the Jesus of the Bible, we hope you'll discover that a step toward him doesn't require leaving your brain behind. If you embrace the biblical Christ but think faith isn't concerned with matters of the mind, we want you to see that belief in the Incarnation — God entering the time-space world as a man two millennia ago — compels you to take history seriously."
Historians use reliable criteria to establish the probability that an event happened in the past. For instance, claims are more likely true if they are reported by multiple, independent sources. By this standard, our knowledge about Jesus is superior to that about virtually every other ancient historical figure. Scholars have discovered more literary sources for the historical Jesus within the first hundred years after His life than all of the primary literary sources for Socrates, which, incidentally, are in far less agreement with each other than the Gospels.
When the historical process is arbitrary and inconsistent, the past becomes something that people with an agenda can manipulate like a fictional story. This type of mind-set leads to the dismissal of the miraculous accounts given by Jesus' followers in the Gospels. Those accounts are replaced with historical profiles of what someone living at the time of Jesus would have probably been like. Others go so far as claiming that the followers of Jesus merely borrowed from the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. The reasoning? The miracles didn't happen because miracles can't happen. We're going to break this down in detail in a later chapter. Pop culture has seized on these unfounded speculations and broadcast them as fact.
Comedian and cultural commentator Bill Maher spews this palaver to the delight of his adoring audiences. Others simply repeat this again and again as if it is part of the creedal orthodoxy of a new skeptical religion. And make no mistake: atheism is a religion. It is a set of beliefs about the nature of the world and about us as humans, and those beliefs have dramatic implications for how we should live and how society should function. At the heart of this anti-theistic system is the necessity to dismiss the supernatural, especially the supernatural birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Excerpted from Man, Myth, Messiah by Rice Broocks. Copyright © 2016 Rice Broocks. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Gary R. Habermas, PhD, xi,
Introduction: It Is a Thing Most Wonderful, xv,
Chapter 1: Man, Myth, or Messiah?: History's Greatest Question, 1,
Chapter 2: The Minimal Facts: What Even Skeptics Believe, 23,
Chapter 3: We Can Trust the Gospels: Why the Bible Is Reliable, 43,
Chapter 4: The Crucifixion: Why Jesus Had to Die, 67,
Chapter 5: The Resurrection: The Event that Changed Everything, 91,
Chapter 6: Dispelling the Myths: The Uniqueness of the Jesus Story, 117,
Chapter 7: Jesus the Messiah: Son of Man, Son of God, 141,
Chapter 8: Miracles: Evidence of the Supernatural, 171,
Chapter 9: Following Jesus: Answering the Call to Discipleship, 193,
Chapter 10: Defenders of the Faith: Prepared to Share the Gospel, 217,
Epilogue: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, 243,
About the Author, 271,