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-by Peter Van Inwagen
Skeptical of the Skeptics
The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History
By C. Stephen Evans
Oxford University Press
386 pp.; $70, hardcover;
The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith is a sustained argument for the conclusion that it is possible for the ordinary Christian, the Christian with no training in historical scholarship, to accept, without any compromise of intellectual integrity, what the author calls "the incarnational narrative": the New Testament story of the birth, earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ as the church has traditionally understood that story. The incarnational narrative is "an account of how the divine Word took on human flesh, was born as a baby, lived a life characterized by miraculous healing, died a cruel and voluntary death for the sake of redeeming sinful humans, was raised by God to life, and now abides with God, awaiting the time of his glorious return and ultimate triumph." Evans attempts to show, moreover, that it is possible that some or all ordinary Christians know that the incarnational narrative is true.
The author, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, defends a large number of preliminary conclusions in the course of his book-length argument. Two of these preliminary conclusions are that it matters to Christian faith whether the incarnational narrative is historically true, and that there are no scientific or philosophical considerations that demonstrate the impossibility of miracles. But the most important of his arguments have to do with the nature of knowledge and the authority of critical New Testament scholarship, and it is these arguments I shall discuss.
A large part of the book is an examination of the nature of knowledge. Evans undertakes this examination in order to refute the following thesis (which has been explicitly endorsed by the theologian Van Harvey, whose influential book The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and ...