Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, April 26

The Faith of the University Skeptic

One of the things you will likely hear on the university campus is that the Bible’s depiction of Jesus is historically inaccurate. For example, did Jesus say he was God, or did the church make it up? Skeptics use the phrase “Jesus of history” to refer to who they think Jesus “really” was. They use “Christ of faith” to refer to who the church, especially Paul, supposedly changed Jesus into. But did Paul change the essential nature of the gospel.

The history of the debate has produced versions of Jesus that are quite different. According to some, Jesus was a political or social revolutionary, a cynic-like philosopher, a charismatic holy man, a Jewish sage, an eschatological prophet, or a simple Galilean man teaching the “brotherhood of man” and the “fatherhood of God.” What they all agree on is that the Christ we read about in our gospels is not an accurate portrayal of who the real Jesus is, and hence the Bible cannot be trusted.

We must be careful whenever we assign motives, but in some cases, skeptics of the Bible will admit they come to the text with a priori assumptions and anti-supernatural ideologies, and then proceed as if these assumptions and ideologies were facts. For example, a skeptic might say:

  • We know there are no such things as miracles, so all miracles must have been added to the historical account.
  • No one is born of a virgin, so the story was added to parallel the supposed virgin births of other significant people.
  • We know God can’t become human, and so Jesus never would have said he was God.
  • Jesus never intended to start a church, so any references to the church are later additions.
  • God is a God of love, not wrath, so final judgment (if there is such a thing) must result in universal salvation, and all discussion of hell must be rejected.

Consider the early twentieth-century scholar Albert Schweitzer. He wrote that Jesus thought he could force God’s hand in sending his kingdom to earth, eventually by being crucified. When Jesus was hanging on the cross and realized he had been unsuccessful, he cried out in despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Schweitzer believed that the historical Jesus was a deluded, apocalyptic prophet.

But these assumptions about God and reality run contrary to what the Bible teaches and what Christians have always believed. We believe God is all-powerful, and he can do whatever he wants to do, including becoming human. As God, he can be born of a virgin, perform miracles, and die as a substitute for human sin. God (the Father) can raise God (the Son) from the grave.

These are, to be accurate, faith-based assumptions, and if you believe there is no such thing as a miracle, then you will expunge the gospel of any mention of the miraculous. But if you hold these beliefs, there is no reason to remove the miraculous from the gospel accounts. Skeptics have other beliefs, of course, but they too are faith-based assumptions, unprovable beliefs.

Your skeptical university professor will probably not publicly admit that his or her views are based on a priori assumptions and anti-supernatural ideologies; they will want you to “believe” that their teaching is based on “facts.” Don’t be tricked.

This blog is an extract from my upcoming book, Why I Trust the Bible, due out in August, 2021.