Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Can We Trust the Gospels? 0

The comments on the Objections to the Resurrection posts quickly became a disjointed mess largely because we were starting in the middle of the conversation. So I’d like to back up and start over.

Why should we believe what the Gospels tell us about Jesus? That is the fundamental question we have to answer before we approach the resurrection or any other topic relating to the life and ministry of Jesus.

To that end, I’d like to work through Mark D. Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels?

This book started on Roberts’ blog as a series of posts called Are the New Testament Gospels Reliable. If you’d like to read along with me, you can purchase the book or read the posts (though I have no idea how much has changed for the book).

Some preliminaries:

Mark D. Roberts received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He has been a pastor and author and currently is senior director and “scholar-in-residence” at Laity Lodge.

In chapter one he recounts a bit of his journey through the skeptical halls of Harvard. Some professors tried more than others to be fair, but he found lots of challenges to his faith.

His faith survived, though, as he saw that the Bible wasn’t always treated fairly. He found that any differences between the Gospels were assumed to be a contradiction unless proven otherwise and that sometimes “academic consensus was built on the shifting sand of weak philosophy, peculiar methodology, and atheistic theology” (p16).

He also found that his professors rarely “entertained perspectives by scholars who didn’t share their naturalistic worldview” (p18) whereas students at more conservative seminaries were expected to engage opposing views.

Why bring this up? Because if he was thoroughly immersed in this skeptical environment, he probably has some reasonable insights into it. And if he survived this experience with his faith intact, there is reason to hope that he might have something useful to offer us about answering the skeptical objections that are so common in our culture.

To that end, Roberts takes a cautious approach to the evidence in this book. I remember when it first came out, he was taken to task by some for taking more liberal/skeptical positions on certain issues, but he explained that his goal was to use the evidence that was acceptable to most non-evangelical scholars for the purpose of appealing to the broadest audience – especially those who are, like he once was, steeped in “modern scholarship” and reeling from the blow to their faith.

He says,
“My basic point in this book is that if you look squarely at the facts as they are widely understood, and if you do not color them with pejorative bias or atheistic presuppositions, then you’ll find that it’s reasonable to trust the Gospels” (p20).
Let’s see if he can prove that, shall we?

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