Two things that are required to make a fictional character interesting are flaws and character growth. Sherlock Holmes’ brilliance would be completely insufferable if he wasn’t also an egotistical jerk with terrible social skills. Batman’s superpower of awesomeness would be intolerable if it weren’t for his trust issues and the relationship problems they force him to navigate.
So how can Jesus be such a compelling character? He has an impeccable moral character. He never misspeaks, never makes a misstep. He never misunderstands anyone and always has the perfect response ready. Today such a character is called a “Mary Sue” and derided as completely uninteresting. But he’s not.
Tom Gilson’s new book Too Good to Be False: How Jesus' Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality shows that the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is something different from any other person in history or in fiction — a character that is “too consistent, too unique, and too extraordinarily good to be mere legend” that still manages to be magnetic. “In both history and literature, the powerful people are never the noble, self-sacrificial people.” Except Jesus. He’s the one person whom absolute power did not corrupt.
This book catalogs the things in Jesus’ life we overlook because we’re too used to them: amazing things in his character, the way he leads, the things he never says, and other truths we’re too familiar with to notice. “I’m not saying it leads to ‘new truths,’ for most ‘new truths’ in Jesus studies are deceptive and false; they’re the stuff that cults are born of. These discoveries are of the ‘how much more’ variety instead: how much greater, more loving, more clearly God, our Savior is and was than I’d ever realized.”
This serves as an apologetic argument. Skeptics say Jesus’ miracles are impossible. Take those away, and he’s just an ordinary moral teacher — “a ‘fairly ordinary rabbi story,’ plus special effects.” What Gilson shows is that his character eclipses his miracles in improbability. He also shows that such a character, even if one person could create such a thing, cannot have come about by the communal evolutionary process skeptics claim created the gospels.
However, I don’t really know how many skeptics will be persuaded by this line of argument. Let’s face it, most skeptics are skeptical of everything but their own skepticism. Those who are wavering or wondering, perhaps the curious and the seekers, may find this persuasive. But not the Dawkins fanboys.
And Gilson knows that: “This book isn’t primarily about rounding up skeptics’ ideas and proving them wrong, anyway. It’s mostly about gaining a fresh new vision of Jesus. My primary aim, for those who are already convinced he’s worthy of their worship, is to show you even more reasons to fall on your knees in wonder before him.”
Yes, apologetics can lead you to worship. I know because I experienced it in Tom Gilson’s new book. I think it will do that for you, too.