Have You Met the Real Jesus?

She was brought up Catholic, but by the age of 18 had abandoned her belief in God. She married a fervent atheist and became one of the most-read authors in America, penning a succession of stories about vampires and witches—unaware at the time that these books reflected her quest for meaning in a world without God.

Anne Rice, author of Interview With a Vampire (Ballantine), spent 30 years as an atheist. Then during periods of depression, she began studying the Bible. Her faith rekindled in 2002, when she gave herself “utterly to the task of trying to understand Jesus himself and how Christianity emerged.” And that’s when she discovered something very curious.

An inveterate researcher, Rice prides herself on the accuracy of the historical world she creates for her novels. To prepare for writing about Jesus, she spent two years delving into the New Testament era, which included reading books written by skeptical historians.

“I expected to discover that their arguments would be frighteningly strong, and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud,” she writes in the afterward to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf). Surprisingly, the opposite occurred.

“What gradually became clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments—arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance—lacked coherence,” she notes.

The arguments about Jesus Himself were full of conjecture. “Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions,” writes Rice. “Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.”

For years, skeptical historians have captivated the public with flashy new theories about Jesus. They present Him as the non-miraculous Jesus; the mythical Jesus who’s still in His grave; a Jesus who imparts wisdom but who is not the savior of the world.

But Rice found the impotent Jesus of doubting professors to be based on “some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’ve ever read.”

In the end, she became “disillusioned with the skeptics and with the flimsy evidence for their conclusions.” Instead, she discovered that the writings of other highly credentialed scholars—Richard Bauckham, Craig Blomberg, N. T. Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson, D. A. Carson, Larry Hurtado and others—were more than enough to establish the early dating and first-person witness of the Gospels.

If I were to sum up the lesson learned from Rice’s experience, I’d put it like this: “The emperors of radical New Testament scholarship have no clothes!”

As I document in my new book The Case for the Real Jesus (Zondervan), more and more scholars are now speaking up to expose the leaps of logic, biased interpretations and tissue-thin evidence that underlie the outrageous claims about Jesus. One is James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, who has decried “the misinformed nonsense that has confused the reading public over the past few years.”

James D. G. Dunn, professor emeritus at the University of Durham in England, agrees: “The quest of the historical Jesus has been seriously misled by much poor scholarship and distorted almost beyond recognition by recent pseudo-scholarship.”

Equally adamant is highly regarded Notre Dame professor John P. Meier. “For decades now,” he says, “the unsuspecting public has been subjected to dubious academic claims about the historical Jesus that hardly rise above the level of sensationalistic novels.”

As people who are passionate about reaching out to others with the hope of Christ, we have the privilege of setting the record straight. Our goal should be nothing less than presenting the real Jesus: the life-changing and eternity-altering Son of God who established His divine credentials by bodily returning from the dead.   

by Lee Strobel
Lee Strobel was a legal editor for the Chicago Tribune and former atheist. Today he is a Christian apologist. He has served as teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church. He is best known for writing the semi-autobiographical bestsellers The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator and most recently, The Case for the Real Jesus. You may visit Lee’s popular video apologetics web site LeeStrobel.com.

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