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on June 2, 2001
It is true that Crossan did not substantially engage many of Craig's arguments for the ressurection. Instead, he offered orthodox Christians (who presumably have been sheltered from such ideas) a paradigm shift: "It's metaphorical, the Gospel writers didn't really mean it that way." True, the debate and essays following do create more of an all-star, rather than world series, atmosphere. Yet the book does bring together some real stars, and they do put on a good display, in my opinion, baring on the most important spiritual questions we can ask.
Not all of the complaints below need to be taken seriously. "Buckley was biased. He called Crossan a puff of smoke." Who were you expecting, Barbara Walters? The man calls his show Firing Line: where there's fire, there's bound to be smoke. Crossan is a big scholar; he can take care of himself. "Craig got to go first, and last, too." Life is indeed unfair. Still, what you get here is three top scholars on both sides, each given time to develop their ideas. Not exactly a kangaroo court. "They spoke past each other. Crossan said the Gospels are metaphor, and Craig failed to reply." Not so. Crossan advanced his argument explicitly, and Craig even more explicitly refuted it. Not that it took much refuting. With the Gospels, it is obvious we're not dealing with Homer or Bunyan: precisely why they continue to cause such a fuss.
Miller wrote an interesting essay on how different an apologetic appears to those "inside" a group as opposed to those "outside." I did not find the particular example he gave, of Islamic apologetics, that strong, for the simple reason that from earliest times Islam has held that conversion "out" ws deserving of death. (The day before I first wrote this, I got an e-mail from a friend in Nigeria about a student of his whose uncle tried to knife him for converting to Christianity.) In a closed society, your apologetic doesn't have to carry all the weight of persuasion. (Can you imagine publicly debating the credibility of Muhammed in a Muslim country?) But even in the case of Humanism, it is striking to me that this debate, in which top scholars attacked a core belief of Christianity, was held in a church, and published by a Christian publisher. It is also striking that, as Blomberg points out, Crossan shows little or not familiarity with "evangelical" scholarship. (Unlike, to his credit, Lowder and his Internet Infidel friends.) Yet the secular media and academic worlds go to the likes of Crossan for expertise, or reassurance, as the case may be. In which direction, then, should the force of Miller's argument about tunnel vision and self-referential apologetics be turned?
In these discussions, comparative religion is usually brought in as an ally by the skeptical side, as here by Borg and Miller. But I think it actually offers powerful arguments for the truth of the Gospel. Those interested in the relationship between Christianity and other religions, and its implications for this discussion, might take a look at my recent book, Jesus and the Religions of Man.
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