Listen: John Dickson chats to Laura Bennett
Have you ever asked yourself where the tenets of your Christian faith come from? What are the historical proofs for the Bible you read? Did Jesus really walk the earth and do all the things it says He did?
According to a recent study from Pew Research, in 2015, Christianity was the world’s number one religion. Over 2 billion people professed to be followers of the faith, making the constant evaluation of its validity and modern relevance understandable.
In his latest book, Is Jesus History?, academic and author Dr John Dickson encourages doubters to do research of their own. Following up from his 2018 release, A Doubters Guide to Jesus, this new book is an evidence-based evaluation of Biblical history, compiling some of the latest thinking on Jesus’ life, and what facts we can know for sure.
“I don’t believe history can convince you to become a Christian… But you don’t have to switch your brain off to take Christianity seriously.”
“There’s so much craziness at the edges,” said John. “You get these books that are ‘sensational’ and try to overturn everything… and then books that try hard to ‘prove’ everything about Jesus, and tend not to be super reliable.
“There seemed to me, to be a need for a book that is really up to date with the scholarship that’s out there, and that doesn’t try to ‘prove’ too much, and doesn’t go down the ‘sensationalist’ model.”
Given the number of books available, it could be surprising to still see the historicity of Jesus’ existence being debated. But “frankly”, John laughed, “most people don’t actually read the books. They certainly don’t go back and read one the primary sources of Jesus’ life: the Gospels.”
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To the doubters, John wants to stress that the Bible is no fairy-tale.
“This is the history of The Middle East,” he said. “I don’t believe history can prove enough to convince you to become a Christian, because there are a number of factors that come to play… but I want to say to the person who’s a long way from the Christian faith, ‘You don’t have to switch your brain off to take Christianity seriously’.”
Both inside and outside of the Christian faith, the value placed on historical proofs will vary. Some people put great weight in what science and ancient texts can prove, while other believers prioritise the spiritual experience of their faith, and what they’ve come to know about God first hand.
“The history might lead someone to think, ‘I should take this more seriously’,” said John, “but when they read a Gospel and they come to believe in Christ for themselves and they find Him trustworthy, they are exercising what we call ‘faith’ – but really it’s personal trust.
“It’s like when you get to know a person… After a long time of relating to someone, you build up enough of a picture that this person is trustworthy, that even when there’s no evidence, you’ll trust what they say.
Christian Faith is Not Just Intellectual
“The experience of a Christian is very much like that; over the years they learn to trust Jesus, to trust God, with their lives. An atheist may look on and say, ‘but you have no evidence’, but they’re only seeing the evidence of the moment. What they’re not seeing is the long history of trusting God, and learning that He is faithful.”
No matter what your life experience has been, or what history can or can’t tell us, there’s always going to be something about God that can’t be proved absolutely. In the realm of academia, dealing with that reality is something John has happily accepted.
“If God exists, then He is so infinitely above our minds,” John said. “So it’s expected – it’s logical to conclude, that what God thinks, and even some of what He’s explained to us, is so far above our understanding.
“If I knew everything about God and understood all of His ways, then I would stop believing in Him. If my puny brain has come to figure out everything about Him, then that’s not God.”