Reviews: ‘The Christ Files’ by John Dickson & ‘Finding the real Jesus’ by Lee Strobel

Finding the real Jesus: A Guide for Curious Christians and Skeptical Seekers

by Lee Strobel
Zondervan – Kindle Edition

Strobel is one of the best known figures in Christian apologetics, with his best-seller “The case for Christ”, which retold his journalistic journey from Atheism to Christianity. In this book Strobel again employs his methods of interviewing someone on a particular, popular objection.

I found this a bit of a mixed bag. I enjoyed much of what the interviewees said, particularly in the case of Craig Evans, who is a legitimate leader in his field, but Strobel’s tends to grate on me personally; the general ‘investigative journalist persona just seems a little put on, and, frankly, I can understand why many doubt the sincerity of his investigation. His conclusions, too, often seem overplayed, and only interviewing one source hardly feels like in-depth investigation. I’d prefer if he simply presented the interviews as being interviews with (for the most part) leading figures in their field, with out the hype.

On the whole, it’s probably a good starting point, and I’d recommend anyone who found the contents interesting follow the footnotes to more substantial literature, but I really wonder how seriously any non-believing sceptic will take such a book.

In fact, this apologetic approach to questions of history is something that historian John Dickson criticises in his book:

 The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know about Jesus

by John Dickson

John Dickson is an historian in the Ancient History department at Macquarie University, and in this accessible book, survey’s the sources for Jesus ben Joseph that historians look at, and how they are treated and viewed by mainstream scholarship.

It’s probably worth noting what this book is not: it is not a book of Christian apologetics, and although Dickson is a co-director of The Centre for Public Christianity he criticises the way apologists often overplay the historical data and what we can establish from it (he suggests that apologetics and hyper-sceptic mythicists form the opposite fringes of scholarship).

Christianity, Dickson says, makes certain historical claims, and this book looks at what can reliably known about Jesus from the historical data, and the methods historians use, whether they have Christian faith themselves or not.

Dickson is an excellent writer and communicator, and takes a thorough understanding of scholarly issues and make them accessible without being patronising or simplistic.

For anyone who is interested in the state of current historical scholarship regarding Jesus, this survey is highly recommended.

There is a DVD documentary as well, but I have not seen it.

What do you think?