I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.
The character of Jesus as it is depicted in the Evangelists is one of unequalled excellence… It unites.. in perfect harmony, the qualities of the saint and of the philanthropist… The world beholds in Jesus its ideal of goodness. (32-33)
Fisher’s argument, as he develops it, is that the idea of Jesus’ character comes through a great number of anecdotes and stories from several different sources, yet remains consistent. The consistency of this portrayal gives credence to the notion that it is accurate, and that lends itself to the idea that Christianity must be of divine origin, for “there is no reason to think that any other faultless and perfect character has ever existed” (35). Moreover, the sinlessness of Jesus “gives credibility to his testimony respecting himself” (ibid).
I think this is a pretty intriguing argument from Fisher- that Jesus’ character points to the truth of Christianity. It is worth noting, I think, some aspects of this argument. First, it does rely upon an appeal to the notion that Jesus’ character is, indeed, impeccable. Such an argument has broad appeal–indeed, to this day almost everyone tries to get Jesus on their “side”, whether that is as a prosperity teacher, a Hindu guru, or something else–but I wonder if it is really possible for us to just assume that it is true.
I have seen some attacks on Christianity from the perspective of Jesus’ comments on various things. It has been alleged that his comments incite divisions in families (i.e. “hate” your family, love Jesus instead) or even provoked violence. How might we offer an effective argument to counter this? Does it just mean we have to work to counter every claim, or can we take a different approach?
Second, Fisher’s argument also relies on the notion that people could not actually invent such a character consistently. It is possible that this is true, but I wonder if the continual publications of epic sagas have undercut this a bit as well. After all, a series like “The Wheel of Time” has consistent characters that persist through a 14-book series, some of which are over a thousand pages on their own. Indeed, the last three books were authored by a different author, so that shows consistency of characters not just within one author but over multiple authors. Does this point against the idea that consistency of character shows Jesus was real?
I think a possible response might be to point to the unity of the moral character of Christ claim with the claim of consistency of character. It may be possible to write consistent characters over quite a bit of time, but is it possible to do so with a character who is without sin and demonstrably moral? If we can answer some of the difficulties with the first point above, this argument gains more traction.
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Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).
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I don’t think this argument is convincing. Is Fisher familiar with ancient ideals, and how the portrayal of Jesus by the evangelist fits certain well worn ancient tropes concerning divinity and also goodness? See for instance:
1) Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God, 2014 by M. David Litwa Fascinating discussion of common ideas, themes and depictions of god-men that were held widely throughout the ancient world even before Jesus was born, and which show up in NT writings as well.
2) Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library), 2010 by Luke Timothy Johnson which has chapters on religion as moral transformation, and religion as participation in divine benefits.