The Christian world just celebrated the Easter holiday, the Resurrection of Jesus, the God-Man, from the dead. Yet there are many people who either don’t believe in God or, if they do, certainly don’t believe that the Supreme Being assumed flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
At the same time, however, they hold the man Jesus in high regard, either reinterpreting many of His remarks or explaining them away as inventions of later generations.
Neither approach succeeds.
Antony Flew is a world leading philosopher who died at the ripe old age of 87 just a few years ago. For over 50 years, Flew was recognized for being among the profession’s most powerful critics of theism (belief in God). Such was the relentlessness and force of Flew’s arguments that he is credited by his colleagues—both theist and atheist alike—with having virtually revolutionized the field of the philosophy of religion.
Within the last decade or so, Flew—a paragon of intellectual honesty—concluded that all of this time, he had been wrong.
Though he never became a Christian—the belief that God exists is not equivalent to belief in God, much less belief in Christ—he came to think that among the world’s religious traditions, none is as intriguing, as alluring, as Christianity.
“Today,” Flew states, “I would say that the claim concerning the resurrection is more impressive than any by the religious competition,” and that made on behalf of the Incarnation “unique.” He admits to believing that more so than any other religion, Christianity “deserves to be honored and respected”—regardless of whether it is the “divine revelation” that it claims to be. “There is nothing like” its “combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.” The latter, Flew asserts, “had a brilliant philosophical mind and could both speak and write in all the relevant languages.”
In his book, There is A God, Flew shares his correspondence with one the world’s most seasoned and respected of New Testament scholars, N.T. Wright. Flew admits to being “very much impressed” with Wright’s argument(s) for the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, calling his approach “enormously important,” “absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful.”
Wright grounds his “faith in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God,” not in the Gospels, but in the way and ways in which “first-century Jews understood God and God’s action in the world.” This Jewish understanding, in turn, was anchored in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. The Old Testament. Jews, Wright reminds us, “talk[ed] about the Word of God,” “the wisdom of God,” “the glory of God dwelling in the Temple,” “the law of God,” and “the spirit of God.”
Wright notes that when we turn to the Gospels, what we find is “Jesus behaving—not just talking, but behaving—as if somehow those five ways [of talking about God] are coming true in a new manner in what he is doing.” In other words, Jesus behaves and talks as if He believed that “he was called to embody the return of Yahweh to Zion” (italics original).
Since “embody” is the English equivalent of the Latin “incarnation,” the point is that, on Wright’s reading, Jesus indeed conceived Himself as the incarnation of Israel’s God.
Lest the skeptic think that Wright—a universally esteemed biblical scholar, mind you—is just another incorrigibly prejudiced Christian, he calls upon Jacob Neusner, a prominent Jewish scholar who concurs with Wright’s interpretation. In addition to his numerous books on Judaism, Neusner also authored a book on Christianity. “In it,” Wright says, Neusner remarked “that when he reads that Jesus said things like, ‘You have heard that it was said thus and so, but I say unto you this and this and this,’ ‘I want to say to this Jesus: Who do you think you are? God?’”
C. S. Lewis wasn’t the first to articulate what has since come to be known as “Lewis’ Trilemma.” As the 19th century Scottish preacher John Duncan said: “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.”