The Historical Jesus: Five Views is an excellent overview of the range of opinions in the field today – from the Jesus-myth theory to the Jesus-God theory and everything in between. Its level of detail and depth into each argument is both intelligent and accessible, a balance lost in most other works on the same topic. The format itself also encourages the reader to engage in critique of each argument, as each of the five views are followed by short critiques from the other four authors.
Personally, I dove into this book with one of my students because of my own faith doubts earlier this year. In my opinion, at the very least, the consensus of the majority of the views is that Jesus existed and that he had great influence. The views diverge on the nature of Jesus’ mission and influence. While acknowledging my bias as a Christian, in the end, I found the arguments for the divinity and and bodily resurrection of Jesus to be the clearest and most convincing, particularly those by Dunn and Bock. The Jesus-myth and Jesus-revolutionary theories tried too hard to stretch the evidence into their views. I also appreciated that the critical responses to the more anti-Jesus arguments revealed shaky underlying assumptions. The strongest such statement came from Dunn, who began by protesting “against the assumption that ‘the Christ of faith’ is a perversion of ‘the historical Jesus.'” In other words, before simply dismissing any claims of miracles or spirituality from the assumption that no such things happen, you must first take an unbiased look at the evidence. I challenge those who don’t believe to undertake that endeavor, even by reading this book. At the same time, there is plenty in this book that most Christians I know, with oversimplified faith, would find difficult. I challenge Christians to read a book like this too, if for nothing more than to seek to understand where non-believers are coming from.
In that way we may hope that evangelical (not to mention Christian) can again become a label that men and women of integrity and good will can respect and hope to learn from more than most seem to do today.