Category Archives: Theology

Book Review: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

Amazon Link: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

The Modern Search for the Real Jesus


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is an introductory survey of the historical roots of “Gospels Criticism,” as it has been done since the enlightenment. The book is written by Robert B. Strimple. The basic outline of the book starts in the 18th century and develops the first stages of Gospels Criticism, which has come to be known as the “Old Quest” for the historical Jesus. This quest was basically terminated with the likes of Albert Schweitzer and some rationalist critics who saw the “Old Quest” as fundamentally flawed in its approach to the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. Then, finally in the 20th century, Rudolf Bultmann appeared and gave a ‘watershed’ theory that would ultimately result in a “New Quest” for the historical Jesus. If I could summarize the book into funny categories, I would divide Strimple’s history of ‘Modern’ Gospels Criticism into these three basic categories: 1) Finding your own personal Jesus, 2) Burning everyone’s Personal Jesus, and 3) Solo Fide (Only Faith) – Jesus doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, that is how I felt after I read through the book and processed the basic thought patterns of each transformation of Gospels Criticism. Ultimately, instead of trying to summarize what each person said and thought, the most important thing to understand about Gospels Criticism is that everyone basically subscribed to three principles of history: 1) Any historical work can never be sure, it is only ‘probable’ that something happened, 2) If we cannot see it duplicated today, then it never could have happened in the past (i.e. – no miracles, resurrections, etc.), and 3) Every effect has to have a sufficient cause. Given these three principles, it should become clear that any ‘divine’ activity is strictly prohibited from being ‘known’ in history.


The full worth of this book should be seen in the comprehensive understanding that is given to every figure addressed throughout the book. Each person’s primary methodology in Gospels Criticism is clearly explained with the practical implications laid out for each. I especially enjoyed all the comments by Strimple throughout the book that he set in parentheses (). It became clear, after reading the first two parts of the book, why Strimple divided the various critics into the areas noted above. The “Old Quest” really was obsessed with creating Jesus in their own personal image. Then the “Old Quest” ended in flames with the old critics being called on the carpet for making Jesus in their own image. Finally, the last portion of the book, resolved the events of the burning of the old quest by showing how Bultmann and his disciples embraced the fruits of rationalistic historical criticism – since you really cannot know anything about the ‘historical’ Jesus, a radical faith (without Jesus) is the only real means of finding personal fulfillment in studying the Gospel writings.

One of the more helpful aspects of understanding the “Old Quest” is what Strimple calls their ‘apologetic’ purpose. The very first two critics Strimple mentions saw themselves as apologists for Christianity given the new era of rationalistic enlightenment. In their sincerity, they saw themselves as making Christianity palatable for a modern person who didn’t know what to do with all the miracles and faith claims of the Bible. But this of course lead these early critics to deny the very heart of the good news of Jesus – that he not only died for sins but that he was resurrected from the dead and lives today in heaven, at the right hand of God, saving people from Satan, death, and sin through the work of his Spirit. That is where the liberal critics step in. Knowing that most of the things that were important to historic, orthodox Christians were now gutted from the Gospel accounts, these liberal critics sought to reconstruct Jesus into a ‘real’ historical figure that people could actually appreciate and follow after – since after all, everyone knows that Jesus had to be a great guy – even though his followers added all that non-historical data to his life in the Gospel accounts. But in the end, they only made Jesus look like themselves (i.e. – a deist, a Hegelian, or a liberal protestant) Strimple, in effect, captures the heart of each Gospels critic as he traces their work through to their ultimate conclusions. This leads us to the last two sections of the book.

Strimple very clearly lays out the downfall of the “Old Quest” by means of the skeptical “radical” critics and the climactic work of Albert Schweitzer. Thus, the downfall of the “Old Quest” can be categorized by two claims from the ‘fire-starters’ noted above: 1) The Gospels were heavily influenced by followers of Jesus, so much so that they are primarily theological works, not historical work. 2) The “Old Quest” critics ended up reconstructing the life of Jesus to look a lot like their own worldviews, which was essentially the same thing the “Old Questers” were accusing the Gospel writers of doing to Jesus! This second claim is one of the only positive things that Albert Schweitzer gave to the history of Gospels Criticism.

Finally, in the last portion of the book, Strimple gives us a very helpful picture of the Bultmann’s thinking and how he and his disciples proceeded to embrace the ultimate futility of the modern Gospels Criticism movement. First, I would like to note the partial ‘breath of fresh air’ that I experienced when reading the sixth chapter on Martin Kähler, the supposed forerunner to Bultmann. Kähler’s work, while not affirming the inerrancy of Scripture, seemed to be thoroughly affirming of orthodox Christian doctrine and faith. But, in the end, his impact on Gospels Criticism was not revival. It was instead food for thought that pushed Bultmann to the conclusions that he drew. Strimple strongly presents the ultimate foolishness of Bultmann’s existential and a-historical conclusions about the Jesus of history. Recalling my third section title in the summary above, Bultmann basically proposed that faith is the only means for a person to be justified in seeking out a life of ‘authentic existence.’ This is the concept of ‘solo’ fide – only faith – where Bultmann concluded that knowing the history of Jesus didn’t matter. Instead, what the Gospel writers were trying to accomplish was to show their reads how to live a truly authentic life. And that authentic life could come in any form, not just Christian religion. Thus, it was the ‘left-wing’ disciples of Bultmann who really ‘got it’ and carried out Bultmann’s conclusions to their ultimate end – ‘who cares about Jesus anymore, we just want an authentic existence!’


I found only two negatives in this survey of Modern Gospels Criticism: 1) Strimple did not always connect the three parts together very clearly as he structured the book into chapters. Yes, he made it clear why he segregated the book into the three parts, but as I read, the information was sometimes so much that I did not always track with who came first and why someone influenced another person. It might just be the case that undertaking any such survey like this is always prone to that weakness. 2) Though I attribute this second issue to when Strimple wrote the book, I would have liked to have seen a fourth section covering what has more recently been called the “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus. The book dates itself by not addressing anything beyond what has taken place directly after Bultmann.


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is a short, yet comprehensive, book that will accurately introduce a well read student of the Bible to the historical roots of Gospels Criticism. I say ‘well read’ because the book contains several references to the German language and also deals with fine distinctions and critical methodology. This book is primarily going to benefit someone seeking to be a pastor or Bible scholar, both of whom will run into these methods and conclusions in much of the scholarly commentary work done on the Gospels today.

Book Review: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

Amazon Link: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

mark as story


The primary purpose of the book, Mark as Story, by Rhoads, Dewey, and Michie, is to give a full introduction to reading the Gospel of Mark as Narrative or Story. This means that one should not first of all read mark as “history.” Instead, the authors recommend that the Gospel of Mark should be read (1) independently of other Gospel accounts, (2) while avoiding modern cultural assumptions, and (3) without reading in modern theological conclusions such as systematic formulas of the Trinity or Jesus’ Hypostatic Union. A full translation of the text of Mark is also provided in the book with particular emphasis on word and phase repetition, even to the point of maintaining the Greek word order where proper English allows. But the “bread and butter” of this book is contained in the literary analysis of the entire Gospel. In subsequent chapters to the translation, the authors provide detailed outlines and examples of how to understand the Gospel’s (1) Narrator, (2) the Cultural and Geographical Settings, (3) the Plot Lines, and (4) the Characters – such as Jesus, the Judean Leaders, and the Disciples of Jesus. Lastly, Mark as Story concludes with an afterword and two helpful appendixes. The afterword addresses how to read the Gospel of Mark with integrity, seeking to let the story of Jesus have its way with us and “work its magic” by using our imagination to read the story the way it was originally intended to be read by the first century audiences. The two appendixes are there for the more serious study of the Gospel, providing the reader with the proper tools and directions of what to look for when reading and re-reading the Gospel with several different questions and analysis points in mind.

Areas of Agreement

Keeping in mind that the authors of Mark as Story only intended this book to be a literary or narrative explanation of the Gospel of Mark, the reader must not misconstrue the fact that the Gospel of Mark contains accurate historical information about the first century, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers and enemies. The lack of historical analysis of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story is appropriate in the fact that the authors’ stated intentions were not to address this Gospel as “history.” Therefore, if one reads this book with the understanding that the authors are not denying the historical data that is found within the Gospel of Mark – let the reader understand – this book might be extremely helpful to the more conservative or evangelical reader.

In the literary analysis of Mark’s Gospel, multiple key subjects are highlighted and brought to the table by the authors: (1) the coming of God’s rule/kingdom, (2) the persecution that is associated with following God’s way, and (3) the work of Jesus to restore and change the way things are in world. These, along with other similar theological conclusions, are to be commended in the authors of Mark as Story. The general structure of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of God’s in-breaking rule and kingdom through the coming of Jesus and the persecution and rejection that is bound to follow those who seek after God’s way. This is something that other scholars have called inaugurated eschatology. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection inaugurate both the Kingdom of God and the Great Tribulation that was spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. By following the literary analysis provided in Mark as Story, one will come to a much deeper understanding of how important it was to the first century Christians who read or heard the Gospel of Mark while they were facing the wicked persecution of the Roman Empire in the mid to late decade of 60 A.D. It is with this clear structure that much of the Gospel of Mark can be cogently understood and read in its proper first century context.

A final and strong area of agreement is the fact that all Christians need to understand the literary side of Mark’s Gospel in order to better perceive the lessons and meanings that Mark intended his readers to receive as they read his Gospel account. By learning to read and understand plot lines, narrator functions, and cultural and geographical settings, the reader of Mark’s Gospel will have the ability to pick up on and imagine themselves in the story of Jesus as he brings God’s rule into this world and encourages all his followers to tell about God’s rule where they live and work. And while character analysis is an important feature of this Gospel, it is the conclusion of this reviewer that holding only to a literary reading of Mark’s Gospel will ultimately leave several character traits lacking, especially in the person and work of Jesus. This will be addressed in the next section that follows.

Areas of Disagreement

Many things could be said about the translation of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story, but an area of disagreement needs to be pointed out. Translating Mark in a word-for-word fashion is not the most effective way of getting the story of Mark across to the interpreter of Mark. Though this reviewer understands why the authors translated in this fashion, the overall translation was harder to follow in many areas given that Greek word order (which was emphasized in the translation) is non-existent for first century Greek grammar, especially as it relates to English grammar which demands word order for comprehension. But this is a minor disagreement and the translation can stand for the purposes of the authors’ literary analysis in bringing to light various patterns and repetitions in the Gospel of Mark.

Getting back to the Character analysis provided by the authors of Mark as Story, this reviewer cannot help but express his primary and strong disagreement and reservations with how certain aspects of Jesus’ character were described in the second to last chapter of the book. This is where a historical reading of the Gospel, along with a first century Christian understanding of Christology and Soteriology must be understood while reading Mark’s Gospel. Even though the authors believe that a literary analysis should exclude reading Mark as “history,” they do affirm the need for some cultural background to be understood in terms of Mark’s audience in the first century. Unfortunately, this is where several off-handed remarks are made by the authors of Mark as Story. For example, while it must be agreed that the Gospel of Mark does not need to address every theological meaning of Christ’s death, one cannot conclude with the character analysis that because “Jesus [was] already pardoning sin” that “his death is not needed to make forgiveness possible.” And later, in the same section, they conclude that Jesus’ statement about his “blood of the covenant” is not about sacrifice for sin, but merely a covenant sacrificial idea. But this assumes, once again, a certain view of modern theological interpretation that the authors of Mark as Story have so glaringly warned against. The first century Christian audiences would have had much more information about Christian theology than the authors of Mark as Story are willing to admit. While more examples could be given, this should stand as an adequate example of the types of problems that occur in the character analysis portion of the book.


Mark as Story is a valuable literary reading of Mark’s Gospel and should be commended to those seeking to study the Gospel of Mark in a deeper way with proper literary hermeneutical guidelines. While looking out for the areas of disagreement, much can be gained from both the translation and the literary analysis of the Narrator, Setting, Plot, and Characters provided in the book, Mark as Story.

An Evening of Eschatology

After this year’s Desiring God Conference, the Bethlehem College and Seminary put on an excellent ’round-table’ discussion and debate moderated by John Piper. The three major eschatological viewpoints were represented: Premillennialism (Jim Hamilton), Amillennialism (Sam Storms), and Postmillennialism (Doug Wilson). The representative speakers for each view are in parentheses. For more information about the debate, go here.

But getting to the good part… they have posted the audio and video on the desiring God web site and offered it for free viewing to all of us!

So, with no further ado, I give you “An Evening of Eschatology”!!!

The NEW Jesus Storybook Bible – Deluxe Edition

Jesus Story Book Bible DELUXE

Zondervan is releasing the Jesus Storybook Bible in a new deluxe edition that comes with three audio CDs of all the stories being narrated by David Suchet.

My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories to our children and I highly recommend you consider this edition of the book if you have older children that are learning to read along with their books. Audio stories with books can be very joyful and educational. Please let us know what you think about this book if you have read the first edition to your children and family.

Third Millennium Ministries & Free Seminary Curriculum

The Primeval History

Today I was browsing Richard Pratt’s ministry web site, Third Millennium Ministries, and came upon a wondful discovery! They have recently redesigned their minsitry web site and now they are offering all of their seminary video curriculum for FREE DOWNLOAD!

It is great news and I highly recommend that you consider downloading at least one of their video series to see how good their curriculum really is. Above, you will notice that I have posted the picture of one of their video series that I am currently going through in conjunction with a seminary class at Reformed Theological Seminary (where I attend). It is very good and if you are interested in learning more about the Old Testament, I would encourage you to start there with this video series.

Here are the links to the mp3 audio of the Primeval History video series for your listening pleasure:

Christian Resources about the Islamic Religion


Here are a few good resources to study and use if any of you are wanting to learn more about Islam and what Muslims around the world believe.

  • Biblical Training Course – Intro to Islam
  • Answering Islam
  • Answering Muslims
  • Ministry to Muslims
  • Alpha and Omega Blog Catergory on Islam
  • – Muslim Articles
  • Audio Lectures on Islam
  • CARM Articles on Islam
  • Robert Spencer’s The Truth About Muhammad (PDF)
  • I know of other sites, but this should get our list going for now. Please share in the comments any other web sites you have come across that can help Christians learn more about Islam and what an honest and Biblically faithful response to Islam looks like.

    Obama declares June ‘LGBT Pride Month’

    Just another example of the sad and perverse thinking of the current Presidential Administration leading the White House today. This is one more testimony to the judgment of God that has fallen and continues to fall on the United States of America:

    “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

    Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:21-32)

    Greg Beale Appointed Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA

    Press Release:

    Dr. Gregory K. Beale
    Associate Professor of New Testament

    Westminster Theology Seminary


    On July 1, 2010, Dr. G. K. Beale will join the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary as Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology.

    Dr. Beale holds an M.A. from Southern Methodist University, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from University of Cambridge. He is ordained in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.

    Find out more about Dr. Beale.

    Read the official announcement from Westminster Theological Seminary.

    See the ministry bookstore for a listing of books by Dr. Beale. If you do not own it, I highly recommend The New Testament use of the Old Testament Commentary that he and D. A. Carson put together for Baker Book House.

    Homosexuality and the Church

    James Grant says:

    In the previous post regarding the Church of Scotland and the appointment of a practicing homosexual to a particular ministerial post, someone left a comment stating that this is a healthy move for the Church of Scotland, and American Christians should follow their lead, referencing this article by Walter Wink: “Homosexuality and the Bible.” In this article, Wink provides several arguments as to why the church should not condemn homosexuality, but at the heart of his article and argument is this statement: “The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic.” Indeed…that is a crucial matter on several levels (not to mention an significance difference of opinion on the nature of Biblical revelation).

    I do hope Christians can have open and civil discussions, even about this controversial matter, but it is important to realize that Wink’s arguments will not persuade Christians who oppose the practice of homosexuality and have thought through the textual, biblical, and historical issues. It is not as if Christian’s haven’t dealt with Wink’s arguments both throughout church history and in our more recent cultural situation.  Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics is one of those books that helps Christians get the right perspective on this issue. It is the most comprehensive book-length response to the interpretive assumptions that go into this type of discussion.

    Robert A. J. Gagnon

    I would also encourage you to check out Robert Gagnon’s website. Gagnon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and his credentials are superb: a B.A. from Dartmouth College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also an ordained elder in a Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh. His website is a comprehensive response to the homosexual movement within the church, which he faces in the PCUSA. You can view some of his specific responses to particular articles and reviews here. This includes a response to Walter Wink’s arguments from Christian Century. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see links to the pdfs. If you prefer to hear Gagnon, Issues, Etc., has a two part interview with him (Part 1 & Part 2).