Rice Broocks. Man, Myth, Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question. Nashville: W Publishing Group (an Imprint of Thomas Nelson), 2016. See here to buy the book.
Rice Broocks wrote the apologetic book, God’s Not Dead, which was the inspiration for the 2014 Christian movie of that name. Man, Myth, Messiah is associated with that movie’s sequel, God’s Not Dead 2. The character Jesse Metcalfe plays in God’s Not Dead 2 is actually reading Man, Myth, Messiah in a scene. Whereas the book and the movie God’s Not Dead focused largely on arguments for the existence of God, God’s Not Dead 2 and Man, Myth, Messiah look more at the issue of Jesus: did he exist, and are the things that the New Testament says about him historically accurate?
Here are some thoughts about the book Man, Myth, Messiah:
A. If you have already read Christian apologetics (i.e, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, Josh McDowell, David Marshall, etc.), you will be bored with Man, Myth, Messiah, perhaps even underwhelmed. Overall, the apologetics parts of the book did not cover significantly new ground.
B. There were a few parts of the apologetics sections that interested me. Broocks talks about references by the church fathers to miracles in their day, as well as undesigned coincidence in John 6’s story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. On the latter, Broocks argues that a detail in Luke 9:10 explains why Jesus asks Philip in John 6:5 where they can buy bread: Luke 9:10 says the miracle occurred near Bethsaida, and John 12:21 says that Bethsaida was Philip’s hometown. Broocks states that “These connections and other similar examples show that the gospel stories were based on actual historical events.”
C. Broocks talks in the book about the importance of respecting atheists: of listening to what they have to say before responding. Broocks refers to Christians who inspired him in his own life, Christians who did not judge non-Christians but walked the Christian walk.
Unfortunately, Broocks did not model this approach in this book. Although he quotes atheists, skeptics, and people who do not believe as he does (i.e., the Jesus Seminar), he rarely engages their actual arguments. An exception would be his chapter that argues against the skeptical claim that Jesus was based on pagan religions. Overall, though, Broocks talks as if atheists and skeptics have no logical or evidential basis at all for their beliefs, and that they are simply rebelling against God.
In my opinion, there are atheist and skeptical arguments that deserve serious engagement. Broocks says that the evidence for Jesus is as reliable as the evidence for Alexander the Great, but Richard Carrier has argued that there is more evidence for Alexander the Great. Broocks says that the early Christians could not have hallucinated the risen Jesus, but Bart Ehrman refers to hallucinations of religious figures to show that this is a possibility. Broocks casually dismisses the Jesus Seminar, but the Jesus Seminar uses actual criteria in determining what in the Gospels is authentic, and what is inauthentic or implausible. I could list more examples.
Broocks could say that he did not want to complicate the book with rabbit trails, but that he was writing an introductory apologetics work that could equip Christians with decent arguments. Fine, but Broocks could have displayed some acknowledgment of nuance in the book, every now and then. Plus, if the book fails to engage other points-of-view adequately, then is it actually equipping Christians to engage or debate with atheists?
D. There were areas in which I thought that Broocks was rather inconsistent. Broocks refers to Irenaeus’ Against Heresies 3.1.1, which says that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew during the ministry of Peter and Paul, and that Mark and Luke wrote after the deaths of Peter and Paul. Broocks is probably appealing to church tradition to argue that the Gospels were written by the people who bear their names. But Broocks appears to posit a different scenario for the Gospels’ composition from what Irenaeus presents. Broocks agrees with many scholars that Mark’s Gospel was written first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source. Broocks believes that Matthew’s Gospel was written after Luke’s Gospel, and in the late 70’s-80’s (which presumably was after the lifetimes of Peter and Paul). That appears to be different from what Irenaeus says. What does that say about the reliability of church tradition?
E. I think that Broocks could have done a better job in explaining the significance of some of the details that he was mentioning. For example, how exactly does the multitude of New Testament manuscripts show that the New Testament as we know it matches the New Testament that was originally written down? Broocks said that certain New Testament events are attested in multiple independent sources, but what are those sources? And, rather than simply saying that skeptics have a higher standard of historicity when looking at the New Testament than they have for other ancient sources, perhaps Broocks would have done better to have discussed how historians determine what is historical: Do they simply believe whatever is written down? If not, what criteria do they use? Broocks interacted with some of these issues, on some level: he referred to specific multiple sources in arguing that Jesus historically died, and he mentioned the importance of sources being close to the events themselves. Overall, though, Broocks book was not very critical, in terms of methodology. On a positive note, Broocks does quote scholars, so perhaps that is an asset to this book: it can point readers to sources that do a better job, in terms of critical methodology.
F. Broocks has a chapter explaining why Jesus had to die. Essentially, Broocks articulated the concept of penal substitution, which states that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, in our place. The chapter was typical of many evangelical articulations of penal substitution, and it raised the same questions in my mind that those other articulations raise. For example, if God needs to punish people’s sin to be just and to uphold some moral order, how exactly is God being just by punishing someone for something that somebody else did? Believers in penal substitution like to make courtroom analogies, but how often do courts punish a person for somebody else’s crime? Broocks at one point does distinguish between sins against others and sins against God: he says that people have to pay for their sins against others, but he asks how we could pay for our sins against God? Broocks here is probably just setting the stage rhetorically for explaining why Christ had to die for our sins.
G. The apologetic parts of the book were largely a turn-off to me, but the more personal parts of the book were rather endearing. Broocks talks some about his own up-and-down experiences with Christianity, the miracles he has seen and heard about, and his skeptical brother’s conversion to Christ.
H. The parts of the book about following Christ struck me as saying that we should obey, obey, obey, regardless of how we feel. That was balanced out, somewhat, by Broocks’ telling of the faith journeys of Augustine and John Wesley. Wesley, for some time, really struggled with his faith.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.