One of the most pernicious and evil myths to plague the human race is the myth of neutrality. It is a product of atheism and anti-Christianity, because it presupposes a cosmos of uncreated and meaningless factuality, of brute or meaningless facts. Because every atom and fact of the cosmos is then meaningless and also unrelated to every other fact, all facts are neutral.
R.J. Rushdoony,The Myth of Neutrality
Our old friend Bob Seidensticker has a recent post up on his blog titled, “Is This a Powerful New Apologetic Argument?” where he is reviewing a post by Tom Gilson over at Touchstone Magazine. I think that Gilson’s arguments are interesting and need to be considered, but I’m not particularly moved by them as they are working through objections to the historicity of Jesus. But this post isn’t about how Bob handles the arguments in Gilson’s piece, but about what his post devolves into.
Gilson is a Jesus fanboy, and he has an inflated view of the contribution of Jesus. He tells us that any other literary or historical sacrifice “[pales] beside the sacrifice of Christ.” He was “a character of moral excellence beyond any other in all history or human imagination.” No competing story gets the “crucial aspect of Jesus’ character—his perfect power and perfect goodness—exactly right, without flaw.”
“Gilson is a Jesus fanboy and he has an inflated view of the contribution of Jesus.” Name-calling does not make an argument.
Since Gilson’s article is 3 years old, and it’s responding to a variety of assertions about the historicity of Jesus as it relaxes to the authorship of the gospels over and against what opponents of the faith claim, I am willing to let Gilson’s standard—the biblical standard which Christ exemplified—stand on its own. I am willing to let each of the gospel authors make their own cases and set their own standards and see if it is lived up to. Gilson recognizes that the Christian faith has a ripple effect through time and through people, but this is because he has a standard that can detect the effects, that being the person and life of Christ. Gilson is under no illusion that he can rightly make any judgment apart from that reality. But what about Bob?
I think we’ve found the problem. Was Jesus that great? Not if you read the gospels.
Jesus didn’t stop slavery, didn’t reject polygamy, and didn’t denounce God’s genocide in the Old Testament. Gilson acknowledges without rebuttal that Jesus did nothing to address the social ills that we reject today.
Provide a coherent justification, from your worldview Bob, that can say that there’s anything wrong with slavery, polygamy, genocide, or can define in a meaningful sense what a social ill is or why it needs to be rejected. In order to define slavery, you need to be able to define what not being in slavery actually is. In order to coherently define polygamy and be able to oppose it you need to define what marriage is. Since the Christian position is that Jesus is the exact same God who sent the flood and ordered the removal of the Canaanites, you have to provide a coherent justification to say that there was some wrong done in those actions.
Jesus wanted faith without evidence, as in the Doubting Thomas story (“blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed”).
Attention Kmart shoppers, there’s blue light special on straw men on aisle 3. Talk about missing the point: Thomas was adamantly refusingto believe the evidence that he was given, that is the evidence of the testimony of the multiple witnesses of the resurrection. Thomas had spent nearly 3 years of his life with Jesus and had heard him tell of what was coming and what was going to happen and refused to believe when it came to pass. This fails to take into account the different kinds of evidence that are used. Further, there is the use of two different Greek words between the two statements. Jesus, we can imagine in a somewhat exasperated tone, asks Thomas, “Do you believe because you have seen (Greek form of horao, to see with the eyes) me?” with John’s tacked-on commentary “Blessed are those who havenot seen (Greek form of eido, to personally know) and yet believe.” The point being that the only way we know of Jesus, who he is and what he has done, is through those who knew him personally. Those who believe through their message receive the greater blessing than those who had the personal experience because we are leaning on the power of God working through the revelation given to them. A fitting analogy would be those who did not personally experience the causes of the American revolution still believing in the principles that are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and working to make sure that they are lived and worked out in the life of the nation.
Jesus said that his mission was only to the “lost sheep of Israel” and cautioned his disciples to avoid wasting time with those who couldn’t appreciate the message (remember “don’t cast your pearls before swine”?).
The important phrase there is “his mission,” the disciples, however, would be given a different mission. Since “swine” are what people reveal themselves to be, and the “pearls” those tokens that are supposed to be of great value and are not to be handled carelessly.
Jesus predicted the end in the lifetime of his hearers: “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (keep in mind that “these things” includes the stars falling from the sky).
The “end” of what though? The disciples’ question was a three-fold one, so what has to be kept in mind was what Jesus had said in order to understand the question being asked of him. Jesus clearly wasn’t talking about the end of the world, as much as the end of a system of the world that found its home in Jerusalem, that was destroyed in AD70, within the lifetime of many of the members of his audience. Jesus uses the same Old Testament eschatological terminology in his prophesy that those earlier prophets used, something seen in this paper on their usage in the Book of Revelation, even though I don’t agree with the conclusions that it draws, it is still interesting.
Jesus demanded single-minded devotion (“those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples”).
Um, yeah. Because a double-minded person is “unstable in all his ways”. Jesus also said
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24, ESV)
There is no neutral ground to stand on, you’re either with him or against him. There can be no divided loyalties.
Jesus demanded faith instead of planning for the future (“take no thought for the morrow”; “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear”).
Probably one of the most misunderstood and abused passages is Matthew 6:25-34 because the assumption is that it is somehow forbidding preparation for future when it is, in fact, saying just the opposite since it is the conclusion of the immediately preceding verse. A Christian’s loyalty determines how he will prepare for the future, it will also determine how he handles the normal ups and downs of life. He will not be concerned about the expectations of anyone except those of God. Jesus’ point, exemplified in the accounts of his life, was that a true believer in God lived depending upon God to define all aspects of life. Jesus lived in a religiously regulated culture fixated on the outward appearances of dress and diet, but true righteousness was found in the relationship with God, not in keeping up mere appearances.
It is in understanding the context in which Jesus makes this statement that Bob’s concluding remark is undone,
The Jesus story is nicely explained as legendary development.
Legends don’t find themselves firmly anchored in accurate historical accounts, something discussed in this article. The fact that nothing of what Jesus says or does can be understood apart from the immediate historical political and religious context of second temple Judaism demonstrates this. Jesus lives and breathes his time. The assertions of “legend” and “myth” are dependent upon sources that are recognized as later and are clearly drawing upon the gospels themselves. What, if anything, has Bob shown that justifies his conclusion?