I recently listened to an interview on NPR where Rachel Martin interviewed Reza Aslan, author of the new book: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
Aslan was born in Iran from a Muslim home; NPR reported that he was “15 years old when he found Jesus. His secular Muslim family had fled to the U.S. from Iran, and Aslan’s conversion was, in a sense, an adolescent’s attempt to fit into American life and culture.”
Aslan is the most recent scholar to contribute to the question of “who is the Jesus of history?” A question that has been seriously discussed since the Europeans began rational/scientific/historical perspectives New Testament studies around the time of The Enlightenment.
Aslan tells Martin: “The more I started studying the historical Jesus, the man who lived 2,000 years ago … the more I started to realize that there was this chasm between the historical Jesus and the Jesus that I had been taught about in church.”
Since the 18th century, there have been three “Quests” to discover a historical representation of Jesus all producing their own portraits. One weakness of Aslan’s argument: he assumes that the historical portraits of Jesus discovered these quests-or his own- are true when in reality, the veracity of the quests’ research has been critiqued both during the times of the quests up until today. The reliability of these portraits is in question but Aslan accepts them as fact.
William Lane Craig writes that scholars like Aslan who believe they have decoded the historical Jesus are really portraying their personal presuppositions. Craig writes, “Apparently unaware of the personal element they all brought to their research, each writer reconstructed a historical Jesus after his own image. There was Strauss’s Hegelian Jesus, Renan’s sentimental Jesus, Bauer’s non- existent Jesus, Ritschl’s liberal Jesus, and so forth. To paraphrase George Tyrell, each one looked down the long well of history and saw his own face reflected at the bottom”
Studying the history of Jesus, ever since Christ walked the earth, people have been misunderstanding and misrepresenting him. Throughout the history of the church up until today, scholars, authors, filmmakers, ministers, theologians, etc. have all been portraying Jesus, claiming to depict the real Jesus, but in the end producing a portrait full of holes. Aslan has a position of weakness when he presupposes that the information on the historical Jesus is accurate when in fact, the data has been under significant scrutiny just like the Biblical accounts they are supposedly “filling in.”[i]
John 4:24 reads, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth (NIV).” The capacity of the mind is inadequate to surmise the essence of Jesus; where the mind falters, the spirit must take over. Hence, approaching Jesus from a mere rational perspective will produce an incomplete Jesus that is not truly historical.
[i] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed., (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003) 218.