More Than A Carpenter (thing)
Who is Jesus?
Written by Josh McDowell and published in 1977, More Than A Carpenter is a work of apologetics, and has been described as (straight from the back cover of the book) "a hard-headed book for people who are skeptical about Jesus' deity, his resurrection, his claims on their lives." The book is divided into 11 chapters in which McDowell lays out his arguments. Curiously enough, he undertook this project nearly 30 years ago in an attempt to refute Christianity. When he began, McDowell was of the opinion that all Christians must be "out of their minds." What follows are 11 summaries/analyses of each chapter in the text, i.e., 'Cliffnotes' y'all.
- What Makes Jesus So Different?
In this chapter, McDowell discusses the various reasons that Jesus, more than any other religious leader in history, causes irritation in people when his name is mentioned in casual conversation. He writes, "Why is it that you can talk about God and nobody gets upset, but as soon as you mention Jesus, people so often want to stop the conversation? Or they become defensive." The great difference between Christ and Buddha, Confucius and Mohammed is that no one but Christ actually claimed to be God. "He was presenting himself as the only avenue to a relationship with God, the only source for forgiveness for sins, and the only way of salvation." McDowell continues to point to specific examples from the New Testament in which Jesus presents himself as the human incarnation of God and how this constituted blasphemy in the eyes of the Roman government. "In most trials, people are tried for what they have done, but this was not true of Christ's, Jesus was tried for who he was."
- Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
I found this chapter to be one of the most interesting in the entire book. Bearing in mind the claims that Jesus made during his life, he would either be a human manifestation of the Lord, a liar or a lunatic. McDowell begins his argument by examining the alternative scenarios in which Christ would be either a liar or a lunatic. Even most non-Christians will acknowledge that if nothing else Christ was a great moral teacher, but if he were a great moral teacher how could he also be a hypocrite at the same time? McDowell concludes that for this case to be true, Jesus would have to be a "deliberate liar," and this does not coincide with his life teachings. Furthermore, why would he, or any man die for a lie? On the other hand, if Christ were a lunatic, "then couldn't he actually have thought himself to be God, but been mistaken. For a man to have done this in such a fiercely monotheistic culture as that which existed during Christ's life, would be "no slight flight of fancy." Yet, how could the instructions of an insane man liberate so "many individuals in mental bondage"? Thus, McDowell believes that the only possibility is that Christ is Lord, but that most people "don't want to face up to the responsibility or implications of calling him Lord."
- What About Science?
As a former skeptic himself, McDowell believes that he possesses a unique perspective on the apparent conflict between religion and science. This chapter deals with a common query of Christianity and religion in general, "Can you prove it scientifically?" McDowell answers with a resounding no. He follows a definition of science given by Dr. James B. Conant, former president of Harvard, "science is an interconnected series of concepts and conceptual schemes that have developed as a result of experimentation and observation, and are fruitful of further experimentation and observation." This leads McDowell to conclude that the scientific method can only be used to prove repeatable things. He makes an analogy in his argument, explaining how the scientific method is equally inappropriate in determining whether other historical figures lived. While the scientific method is based on repeatable observation, the legal-historical method is founded in testimony and according to McDowell, is an appropriate method to employ in the exploration of the Christian faith. McDowell believes that Christianity is "not a blind, ignorant belief but rather an intelligent faith."
- Are the Biblical Records Reliable?
In the first portion of this chapter, McDowell lays down his response to claims that the New Testament was "written so long after Christ that it could not be accurate in what it recorded." He relies heavily on the research of Sir William Ramsay and Dr. John A.T. Robinson, which support the notion that much of the New Testament may be dated to somewhere in the range of A.D. 50 to A.D. 70. Given that these dates are accurate, the question of whether the New Testament is a historically reliable document remain. In the much longer second half of the chapter, McDowell applies three principles of historiography to the New Testament. They are: the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test. Not surprisingly, McDowell agrees with Dr. Clark H. Pinnock, professor of systematic theology at Regent College, that:
There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies, and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest person cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational (i.e., antisupernatural) bias.
- Who Would Die for a Lie?
In this chapter, McDowell approaches an interesting topic from the perspective of his critics. Eleven of the twelve apostles were killed for there beliefs, only John died a natural death. He writes: "Now if the resurrection didn't take place (i.e., it was false), the disciples knew it. I find no way to demonstrate that they could have been deceived. Therefore, these eleven men not only died for a lie--here is the catch--but they knew it was a lie. It would be hard to find eleven people in history who died for a lie, knowing it was a lie." In a way, this section builds on the historical testimonies discussed in the previous chapter. It provides support for the accuracy of the apostles own testimonies of Christ's life and resurrection. McDowell quotes Harold Mattingly as saying: "no man would be willing to die unless he knew the truth."
- What Good Is a Dead Messiah?
This chapter is among the shortest in the entire book, yet it still is important to the text as a whole. Many of McDowell's arguments are structured around answering the questions of skeptics. The question at hand in this particular chapter seems like one that a friend of mine back at school might toss back at me half in jest, half in earnest. Nevertheless, the Jewish conception of the messiah around the time of Christ was that a savior would be born, who would free the Jewish people from the political tyrrany of the Romans. McDowell points out that this conception extended even to the disciples, who "believed they were in on a good thing." When their apparent "conquering Messiah" was "broken and bleeding...nailed to a cross to die as a common criminal," the disciple's "messianic hopes for Jesus were shattered." It is at this point in McDowell's discussion clearly connects to his apologetic message. The disciples who were dejected and despondent at the crucifixion, were suffering and dying, while "proclaiming Jesus as Savior and Lord, the Messiah of the Jews." In his conclusion, McDowell declares that the only "reasonable explanation" for the changes that took place in the disciples, is that Christ appeared to them after the resurrection over a period of 40 days, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:3).
- Did You Hear What Happened to Saul?
In this chapter, McDowell uses the radical conversion of the Apostle Paul to Christianity as a testament to the authenticity of the resurrection (please note that Saul of Tarsus and the Apostle Paul are the same person, and from this point onward I will refer to him as Paul). Paul was a vehement anti-Christian, "a Hebrew zealot" and "a [Jewish ] religious leader." McDowell goes into great detail describing the biblical story surrounding Paul's transformation. Needless to say, he draws on the research of Lord Lyttleton, an Oxford professor (Lyttleton's research was intended to prove that Paul had never actually converted to Christianity). Lyttleton's findings, however, suggest just the opposite of what he had set out to prove, that Paul truly had been converted. Furthermore, McDowell writes:
[Lyttleton] concludes that if Paul's twenty-five years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, then his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ.
- Can You Keep a Good Man Down?
Chapter 8 discusses the topic of the empty tomb. This is a story that most of you should be familiar with. Christ was crucified and was buried in a stone tomb. The tomb was covered by a 2 ton stone and was guarded by Roman soldiers. Despite these precautions, set in place to prevent vandalism, some women found his body gone when they visited the tomb only three days later. After describing this, McDowell carries on to play out and test (logically, not scientifically) different scenarios that attempt to explain the lack of a body in the tomb. These range from the disciples stealing the body to Christ never actually dying, but simply passing out on the cross. McDowell has a reasonable answer for each scenario, and though he does not attest absolute certainty, he clearly states that "the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon people, or it is the most important fact of history." That is to say, he leaves no middle ground.
- Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?
In Chapter 9, McDowell talks about the fulfillment of prophecy in the life of Jesus Christ. I found this chapter to be more contrived than many of the others, it seems weird to discuss prophecies with logic and probability, but McDowell does it. He toys with several of the Old Testament prophecies and the statistical probabilities that they could all be fulfilled in one man (the number of course comes out to be astronomical). McDowell then refutes two criticisms of his views: 1) that the fulfillment of the prophecies was coincidental, and 2) that Jesus deliberately attempted to fulfill the Jewish prophecies. He responds to the first criticism, again with the staggeringly slim probability that even just 8 of the prophecies are a coincidence (it's something like 1 in 10^17). He responds to the second criticism by pointing out that many of the fulfilled prophecies (nearly half) were outside of Jesus' control (his lineage, birthplace, the time of his coming, etc...).
- Isn't There Some Other Way?
At this point in the book, McDowell's argument shifts from providing evidence for the Resurrection and the divinity of Jesus, to substantiating an argument that he (Jesus not McDowell) is the only way of having a relationship with God. After his introduction to the chapter, McDowell explains that many people misunderstand the nature of God. McDowell employs a dialogue of sorts to elaborate (it does not appear this way in the text but I felt it was more effective this way):
Skeptic: How can a loving God allow a sinful individual to go to hell?
McDowell: How can a holy, just, righteous God allow a sinful individual into his presence?
He carries on to discuss how attributes of God, such as "holiness, love, justice, [and] righteousness" are not parts of God, but are "true of God." Therefore, when God represents these things "he is simply being himself." McDowell's main argument for Christ as the only means of a relationship with God is as follows:
Here is a problem that developed as a result of humanity entering into sin. God in eternity past decided to create man and woman. Basically I believe that the Bible indicates he created man and woman to share his love and glory with them. But when Adam and Eve rebelled and went their own individual ways, sin entered the human race. At that point individuals became sinful or separated from God. This is the 'predicament' that God found himself in. He created men and women to share his glory with them, yet they spurned his counsel and command and chose to sin. And so he approached them with his love to save them. But because he is not only a loving God, but a holy, just, righteous God, his very nature would destroy any sinful individual. The bible says, "For the wages of sin is death."
McDowell continues to explain, that God forgives man but there is a price for his forgiveness. Christ must die not only for the sins of humankind but to satisfy the righteous nature of God.
No matter how much he loved us, God had to bring down the gavel and say 'death,' because he is a righteous and just God. And yet, being a loving God, he loved us so much that he was willing to come down off the throne in the form of the man Christ Jesus and pay the price for us, which was Christ's death on the cross.
- He Changed My Life
In this Chapter, McDowell speaks from his own experience and his conversion to Christianity during his second year at college. There is no argument to summarize here, there is only Josh McDowell's personal testament to how Christ changed his life and the lives of those around him. I feel like I have really given away a lot of the book in my summaries, but there is so much more than what I have written. And to find out how Christ transformed Josh's life and his father's, you will just have to read the book for yourself. Lucky for you though, it is extremely affordable (under $5). Check out www.josh.org for more information.
Finally, just so you know where I am coming from... Though I was raised Catholic, growing up I had many problems coming to terms with my own faith, and I don't think the church facilitated the situation. As a result, I felt dejected and abandoned Christianity for several years. I embraced various secular philosophies and even studied Eastern religions. But I wasn't content. I have always felt that there is something greater than myself in this world. And then, about a year ago, I came across a story about St. Francis of Assisi and an almond tree, naked in winter. St. Francis says to the tree, "Sister, speak to me of God." As he is saying this he reaches out to touch the tree, and then it bursts into bloom. It is springtime in the midst of winter. This to me means that God gives us the freedom to achieve that which is within our capacity to achieve. This story did not awaken me in the midst of winter, but it got me thinking and lead me to look at how I was leading my life. Eventually, all this thinking lead me to More than a Carpenter, by virtue of a series of discussions with a good friend. Though I have always held a belief in some sort of god, it was not until recently that I have been able to come to terms with Jesus Christ, and a personal relationship with God. This book changed my life.