One of the things that I failed to mention yesterday was the complete horlicks I made of the question time after my talk. That may have been why no one decided to ask any questions today. Or, as is more likely, they were completely bored by my unbelievably dull talk.
At the end of yesterday’s talk I used a brilliant CS Lewis quote,
‘Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important’.
The questioner put up his arm and asked what it was that had convinced me that Jesus was of infinite importance rather than of no importance. What a gift of a question. It could almost have been a plant. It wasn’t. (Though I was to later learn that the guy was part of the Christian Union). Anyway despite the set up that he’d given me, I bogged it. I wittered. And what I should have said was something like this:
1. the first thing that tipped me over the edge was meeting Christians who gave Christianity credibility. It was amazing really because the first Christians I met were at school. They were only sixth formers and yet it was evident that they had something that I did not. There was substance to them even at that young age. I found them hugely impressive. And I could imagine becoming a Christian and not thinking that would be the worst thing in the world!
2. the second thing that tipped me over the edge was seeing that Jesus’ teaching had the ring of authenticity. Every time I encountered Bible teaching I kept being nailed. Jesus had this uncanny knack of knowing what I was like and why I would do things. It made me uncomfortable but at least I knew that he knew what I was like on the inside. And then I heard an explanation of the cross which made sense of why people got so excited about Jesus. That was the clincher.
3. the third thing that tipped me over the edge was discovering that the historical accounts had integrity. I read some books by people like FF Bruce and Paul Barnett and they gave me confidence that what I was reading was legitimate history. I wasn’t being asked to suspend belief but to exercise belief in the Jesus I encountered. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading facts! And that mattered to me. I didn’t want to believe a fairy tale. I was an engineer. I needed to know that there was evidence for what was being said. And these writers kept on showing me historical evidence to support what the Bible said.
Some of that came out in the question. But you’d have had to be working pretty hard to access it. First note to self: be better at thinking on your feet!
Today was the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament. I’ve been reading John Dickson’s book ‘The Christ Files’ which is a very helpful introduction to the issue of the historical studies. Paul Barnett’s book ‘The Truth About Jesus’ has also been an invaluable resource. Neither are technical. They’re paperbacks, which is how I like my theology books in general! But you can feel the weight of scholarship that underpins what are popular level treatments of an important but quite dull question. And so today was poor. The crowd was bigger. But the talk was dull. That was my fault, though I do think the topic lacks the x-factor of some of the other talks. I tried, but the issue of the authenticity of our contemporary versions, the salient historical details being attested by non-Christian writers and the accuracy of the written testimony established by eyewitnesses accounts is hardly edge of the seat stuff. At least, it wasn’t the way I put it! In his book, Dickson himself says ‘It is a sad fact of scholarship (in many fields that the most impressive work is too subtle, cautious and sophisticated – in other words, boring – to be considered newsworthy by the regular media outlets’. He uses that to explain why it’s the ‘Jesus married Mary’ stuff always gets an airing. I suspect that a more sensational approach to my talk might have given it some juice. But I felt constrained by the need for careful explanation and so it felt a bit flat.
My new resolve is not to put my confidence in my fearsome intellect (ahem) but in the God who says that he’ll bring people to faith in his Son through the work of his Spirit as he speaks through his word. And so I’m hoping that the brief exposition of Luke 1:1-4 makes some impact. It wasn’t much. It couldn’t be since time was running on. But I briefly mentioned that the fulfilment that Jesus’ historical biographer, Luke was out to establish had to do with the long awaited provision of a saviour from sin. That’s got some juice!