The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of Christ by Charles Foster (Mom’s Bookshelf)

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As Easter approaches, the thoughts of many, Christian and non-Christian alike, naturally turn to Christ’s resurrection.

The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ is an intriguing read for all.

The author, Charles Foster, a barrister (trial lawyer) and tutor of medical ethics at Oxford University, was dissatisfied with the books on the subject of Christ’s resurrection available. For the most part, he didn’t find their arguments adequate. He wanted to ask the tough questions and not gloss over the difficulties with the Gospel accounts and historical evidence, so he decided to do his own investigation and write a book that tackled those issues head on.

Using a courtroom format, Foster presents the case both for and against the resurrection. First X presents the case against, then Y presents the case for. Each argument is cross-referenced to the opposing argument so you can quickly turn to see the corresponding evidence for each side. He chose to use this format rather than inviting another person to represent the opposing case so that he could provide a more complete survey of the evidence.

As he puts it:

“…there is no one who believes every single one of the possible objections to the Christian case. It is not logically possible. No one can believe, for instance, both that Jesus survived the cross and walked to India, and that he died in Jerusalem and was eaten by jackals on the municipal garbage tip.” (xii)

By doing it this way, he’s able to explore multiple different objections and theories. He feels confident that he competently represented the evidence against the resurrection:

“I am a barrister (a trial lawyer if you’re in the U.S.): I am in the business of trying to prove things and convince people. I’m an intellectual prostitute, used to standing on metaphorical street corners with my gown hitched up, plying my mind and my mouth on behalf of whoever will pay. I am used to arguing points I find personally offensive. I find that I am more diligent in preparing and arguing those points than I am when I am arguing points with which I instinctively agree. That is a common experience among advocates: we are so worried that our own prejudices will get in the way that we overcompensate. I found that with this book. Anyway, I wondered what would happen if I picked up the non-Christian brief and argued it as fiercely as I could. I wondered what the end result would be and what the experience and the result would do to me.” (xi)

I think Foster argues both sides quite convincingly! It really wasn’t clear which one he comes down on until the epilogue. I definitely found myself squirming a bit at some of X’s evidence. I think that paradigms on both sides of the issue will be shaken by the strong assertions and evidence presented here, and his dry British wit and thorough arguments make for absorbing and interesting reading. If you enjoy courtroom dramas or archeological mysteries, you’ll enjoy this book.

We shouldn’t be afraid to have our beliefs challenged or think we need to have pat answers for everything. As Foster says:

“I’ve learned that people like neat summaries. They tend to skim straight to the bottom line. I think that’s depressing. I want people to learn to live with loose ends dangling. Life is messy, and so is history. I want people to make up their own minds, not have the conclusions spoon-fed to them. A spoon-fed conclusion isn’t a conclusion worth having.” (xii)

In the end, I feel like my belief in Christ’s resurrection was strengthened by reading The Jesus Inquest. On the one hand, I have a better grasp of the arguments against it, and on the other, I have a more realistic view of some of the popular “proofs” for it. The answers aren’t always as clear-cut as we’d like to make them, and it’s okay to admit that.

I have one minor complaint to mention about the book’s format: the fact that the notes are at the end rather than as footnotes. As you can imagine, there are copious notes, many with interesting further information. I kept a bookmark in the notes so I could flip back and forth easily, but it would’ve been so much simpler if they’d been in footnotes so they were easily accessible.

In closing, I want to share one of my favorite quotes from the book. This is from the chapter that addresses the issue of the similarity of certain aspects of Christianity to other ancient mythologies and religions. While speaking for the Christian side, Y says this:

“Christianity is a myth. But it is a true myth. It is not surprising that there are echoes of the Christian truths in the great myths of the world. As human beings grope toward the truth, they don’t get nowhere; they get somewhere. As they strain their ears for divine music, they get faint, distant, broken melodies. But then Christianity comes, and suddenly the melodies are all there, played so clearly and so sweetly that it breaks the heart. For many of the listeners, the response will be: ‘I’ve heard something like that before; I’ve been looking for this all my life.’ That is why the ancient myths of men and the True Myth sometimes sound alike.” (p. 278)

I found The Jesus Inquest to be a compelling and enlightening read. I highly recommend it!

Thanks so much to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.

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