As Christmas is drawing near, the interest in talking about Jesus and Christianity is surely going to increase. It happens every year. Church attendance rises and radical articles begin to cover the Internet and even leading publications preaching the latest and most headline-worthy theory about who Jesus Christ was or was not.
I don’t know about you, but it can be somewhat frustrating to see all of these popular attacks on the historical Jesus. While thinking about this a little bit more, I have come up with a list of three filters that I think need to be applied to any one of these stories that we might happen to stumble across in the media.
- Does the story match the headline?
I have done quite a bit of online sports journalism, and I know that one thing I was always told by my editors was to make my headlines memorable. That should be obvious. If you want people to click on your story (and the company makes money per click), you need to have a headline that grabs people’s attention. The same applies to a magazine and what appears on the cover.
Therefore, the first filter to apply to any of these stories is to actually read the story. Often times, headlines overstate what they promise, and many of these so-called “new discoveries” that many people find shocking are repackaged arguments from the past that have been addressed by many apologists.
Always read the story first for the first filter.
- What sources were consulted?
Often times, it seems that these stories are based upon some type of new manuscripts that have been uncovered and are perhaps being translated in a new light. The obvious question that jumps to mind is to consider who is doing the interpretation. Everyone comes to the table with a bias (even though many will deny that fact), so it is important to see where the conclusion is coming from.
That is one of the reasons why I have so much respect for the work of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. As they worked on their landmark study of the resurrection, they were only using facts that were attested to by a majority of scholars. It doesn’t eliminate bias, but it is an honest effort to try to at least remove the criticism that they were viewing the evidence through only their own lens.
In many of these articles, people see what they want to see, so double check the sources.
- Is there actually any evidence?
After considering these first two points, it is appropriate to move on to evaluating the evidence itself. Now that we know what the article is actually about beyond the headline and have seen where the information is coming from, we can evaluate whether or not the evidence is worth anything for our investigation.
For example, for scientists, the obvious embarrassment is the Piltdown man. As you might recall, it was presented as the evolutionary link between apes and humans, but it was later shown to be an entire hoax. In the same way, evidence related to Jesus obviously needs to be taken with care as well. Certainly, claiming to have evidence and having legitimate evidence are different.
To the best of our knowledge, we need to make sure that we have actual evidence at this point.
I think that it is wise to remember that many of these stories come out in an effort to grab headlines, so we obviously need to understand what we are reading and what the claim is before we can evaluate the claim itself. The headline is not always representative. Then we need to find out where the information is coming from. Everyone comes with a bias, so that definitely does not mean that no one is eligible to write anything, but it does mean that we need to be discerning (this applies to Christian articles as well). Finally, after all of that, we are in the position to evaluate the evidence. Is it actually evidence or is it just speculation?
It is definitely the season for these types of articles, it is wise to think about how we can evaluate them and consequently respond to the claims that many will levy against the historical Jesus.