I’ve always been skeptical by nature. I want to believe, but belief doesn’t always come naturally to me. I want to see the possibilities or probabilities of something before I commit belief. So, when I saw Robert J. Hutchinson’s newest book, Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth—and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts, I was highly interested in giving it a read.
Hutchinson is an “educated layman” who admits to growing up with a fascination with the character of Jesus. He could see possibilities, a hero, and eventually he became drawn deeper into the gospel message, especially as he spent time in Israeli culture and came away with a thirst to learn more.
This desire for more knowledge and learning has culminated at this point in a book that takes both conservative Christian scholars and liberal scholars and looks at where these scholars provide evidence to support the accounts in the New Testament. However, this is not a work of apologetics, as many who pick up this book might be expecting. This is really a work of New Testament studies made accessible for the layman.
For most of us, unless we’ve taken courses in college or read New Testament studies books, the only items that we hear from the work of scholars are the sensational claims that we hear each Christmas and Easter of new research that challenges orthodox Christian belief. If this book does nothing else, I hope that it reminds people that these “shocking claims” are not truly based on the newest research or even the majority thought of scholars. In this, Hutchinson does an excellent job of debunking that popular thought.
Hutchinson divides his book into eleven chapters. Ten of these chapters are framed as questions, such as “Is there Eyewitness Testimony in the Gospels?” and “Did Jesus have a Secret Message?”. The final chapter is a mini examination of when Jesus began to be considered as divine instead of just man. Hutchinson paints broad strokes of each question, giving particular consideration to the conservative viewpoints, yet managing not to draw definitive conclusions, only to point to the viewpoints that support a more Biblical answer.
I think the best summation of his work comes in the chapter on whether or not there is proof for the resurrection. In this chapter, Hutchinson admits that “Doubt and hope are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together. If you have no doubts, then you probably don’t need hope.” He points out several times in this chapter that even though the gospels record the disciples as seeing the proof of the resurrection and other miracles, the gospels also record that the disciples experienced doubt. And I think it’s important to understand that those doubts are not only normal, but they’re okay. I think that skeptics and other seekers that are looking for answers may find some answers here, but I also think that as people of faith, we live in tension with the miraculous and with occasional doubts. That’s just something all of us natural skeptics just have to learn to deal with and do decide whether we’re going to let faith and doubt rule in our lives.
If there’s an area that I would have liked for Hutchinson to address further, it’s the penal substitution theory and it’s main competitors. He touches on this subject several times and is bumping up against it often in his treatment of his questions, but I feel like his examination of the argument is a little lacking.
One of my favorite things about the book is Hutchinson’s use of endnotes and further reading references. Although I’ve read several of the books, Hutchinson’s book has had me to add several new books to my reading list. This is great book for the layman who’s searching in an honest way for answers answers and for what theologians and Biblical archaeologists are thinking about the subjects that Hutchinson addresses. I plan on keeping it on my shelf for further reference and reflection.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the BookLook Bloggers Program in exchange for an honest review.