In 1995, Robert Funk, former professor at the University of Montana, and Professor Dominic Crossan of DePaul University founded the Jesus Seminar. The seventy-four scholars who participated claimed their purpose was to "… assess the degree of scholarly consensus about the historical authenticity of each saying of Jesus." However, they also admitted that they hoped to "liberate the historical Jesus" from the "mythological Jesus of faith." It came as no surprise when this seminar concluded that Jesus said and did very little of what the gospels attribute to Him.
Scholarly evangelicals did not hesitate to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the cynics. Two professors from Talbot School of Theology, Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, responded with Jesus Under Fire. Composed of eight articles by respected scholars, it examines the evidence for the historical reality of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels. Using a style more popular than technical, the writers show that fair, honest scholarship reaches conclusions far different from those of the Jesus Seminar.
In the lead article, Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary lays the groundwork for the book. He points out that "… the Gospels deserve to be treated at least as generously as any other purportedly historical narrative from the ancient world," an idea overlooked by the Jesus Seminar. When approached this way, the Gospels prove to be at least as credible as other historical writings which scholars accept without question.
Scott McKnight of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School follows with a survey of opinions on the identity of Jesus. He then argues that Jesus cannot be written off as a mere sage or revolutionary. In fact, McKnight points out, if Jesus were anything less than the one portrayed in the Gospels, it is impossible to explain why He was crucified or how He created a movement that continues to shake the world.
William Craig, visiting scholar at Emory University, deals with the credibility of Jesus' resurrection. Surveying the evidence for the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the disciples' belief in His resurrection, Craig presents some of the most powerful and perceptive arguments in the book.
Other articles deal with Jesus' miracles, His exclusive claims, and extra-biblical evidence concerning Him. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary writes a compelling article on the method used by the Gospel writers to record the sayings of Jesus. In addition to the eight articles, the editors include an introduction, conclusion, and four-page bibliography for further study.
This entry-level work on Jesus defends the gospel without resorting to harsh polemics. Still, it exposes the "scholarly research" of the Jesus Seminar for what it is: neither scholarly nor research. Jesus Under Fire is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the issue of Jesus' true identity. It demonstrates that one need not abandon reason to view the Jesus of faith as the Jesus of history. Indeed, the evidence for such a conclusion is not only good, it is overwhelming.
Jesus Under Fire, edited by Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. 243 pages. Paper. $12.99.