Introducing a Sophisticated Jesus

Review of Geisler
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran.  2009.  The Apologetics of Jesus:  A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters. Grand Rapids:  Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the cherished myths of the modern era is that modern people are not only more sophisticated technologically than ancient people, they are also morally superior.  This idea is widely believed, but seldom seriously evaluated.  Moral progress is held to be obvious, in part, because of the abolition of slavery and the extension of new rights to other disadvantaged groups. The nexus of this belief is that freedom of the individual, a God-given right according to the U.S. Constitution, makes choices available through the advancement of science and consequent greater wealth.  But what if ancient people were actually more sophisticated than moderns, just lacked the technology?

Introduction

In their book, The Apologetics of Jesus, Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran paint an extremely sophisticated picture of Jesus, as articulated in the Gospel of John.  Geisler and Zukeran note, for example, that the Bible pictures God as a god willing to reason with us. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18 ESV).  After all, apologetics mean to offer a defense (11).  If we are created in the image of a reasonable God, then perhaps the Son of God would also be someone able to turn an argument.  The Apostle Peter admonishes us:  in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Humility requires a God willing to argue a case, not force one.

Organization

In fact, Jesus tailored his arguments to his audience (185).  Geisler and Zukeran make this point in laying out chapters devoted to 8 apologetic methods, including:

  1. Use of Testimony,
  2. Use of Miracles,
  3. Use of the Resurrection,
  4. Use of Reason,
  5. Use of Parables,
  6. Use of Discourse,
  7. Use of Prophecy, and
  8. Use of Arguments for God (7).

Four additional chapters place these arguments in context:

  1. Jesus’ Allege Anti-Apologetic Passages,
  2. Jesus’ Life as an Apologetic,
  3. Jesus and the Role of the Holy Spirit in Apologetics, and
  4. Jesus’ Apologetic Method (7).

These 12 chapters are preceded by a brief introduction and followed only by a series of chapter notes.

Parabolic Apologetic

Especially interesting is Geisler and Zukeran’s discussion of what they refer to as parabolic apologetics—using a story to convey a truth (197). Characteristics of this method include:

  1. Use of the story form,
  2. It teaches through an indirect approach—the audience affirms the point before realizing they themselves are in focus,
  3. The logic is a fortiori—a truth from everyday life applies also to spiritual matters,
  4. The parable uses self-discovery to give the audience a sense of ownership of the message,
  5. The parable is sensitive to those caught in sin (188-89).

I would enjoy teaching this book to an adult group to develop a greater command of its contents. Having said this, I have a suggestion. Instead of focusing on the apologetic techniques, it might be more effective to start by classifying audiences (types of atheists or personalities or age or economic groups) and work back to the techniques that Jesus used to address them. Although I have not seen this done in the apologetics literature, an audience-focused approach might prove easier to apply in evangelism.

Assessment

The myth of moral superiority of moderns over ancients clearly cannot be resolved in a brief review.  It is a subject, however, worthy of further inquiry. If in the fullness of time God chose the ancient world to pay a visit, perhaps, he did so not because the ancient world was more needy, but perhaps because the ancient world possessed emotional and relational intelligence which allowed it to follow the conversation better than subsequent periods like our own [1]. Geisler and Zukeran’s contribution to this discussion is to suggest that Jesus is not the country bumpkin that some critics have inferred.

Footnotes

[1] For example, the ancient world practiced many things that we find intolerable, but the ancient world did not possess nuclear and chemical weapons or use them the way that we do.  If you wanted to murder someone, you had to make a moral decision and get your hands dirty.  Greater efficiency in hiding a crime does not relieve one of responsibility but it may limit its public discussion.

Introducing a Sophisticated Jesus

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