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More Than A Carpenter

More Than A Carpenter

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In chapter six McDowell argues that Jews were expecting a messiah who would be a great military and political ruler, not some guy who would suffer and die at the hands of unjust leaders. "What good is a dead messiah?" he asks. But he partly answers this question himself in a later chapter. The fact is, there are prophecies in the Old Testament that suggest that the messiah would have to suffer a humiliating death and be vindicated by God. This is argued in detail in one of the early chapters of "Not the Impossible Faith," mentioned earlier. McDowell himself claims that Jesus uniquely fulfilled the prophecies from the Old Testament. He and other apologists want to have their cake and eat it too. The idea is that nobody would have accepted a crucified messiah, because that's not what the prophecies said. But at the same time Jesus fulfilled the prophecies from the Old Testament. Well, which is it? If the prophecies said he wouldn't be killed unjustly, then it follows automatically that Jesus was not the messiah (or else the prophecies were just wrong). It looks like apologists want to claim that Jews universally expected a certain kind of messiah, apparently not paying attention to the prophecies that he would be killed unjustly, yet as it turned out Jesus' death confirmed the prophecies nobody ever thought about, which serves as even more confirmation for Christianity. Such special pleading is not at all convincing. Overall, I am not sure if “More Than a Carpenter” is a successful text or not. I do not feel that I am its intended audience, yet I did find aspects of it that reinforced my faith. There is a challenge in the new atheism and with the up is down to all moral relativity. And other chapters are excellent. Science doesn't refute either the way I've read arguments insisting that it does. That was a chapter of considerable substance. Not so much with the chapter about Bible reliability, IMHO.

He presents the flawed false trilemma (liar, lunatic, lord) of C.S. Lewis, and simply assumes far too often that everything recorded in the bible concerning what Jesus supposedly said and did is undisputed truth, in spite of the fact that the majority of the books contained in the bible are anonymously written. And while some of the events are historically accurate and verifiable via other sources, many, including the various miracle claims, are not. There is no requirement (beyond religious dogma) to take the bible as either completely factual or completely fictional. Christianity is not a religion. Religion is humans trying to work their way to God through good works. Christianity is God coming to men and women through Jesus Christ" (p. 5). It is often said that it is reasonable to believe that the Bible is the word of God because many of the events recounted in the New Testament confirm Old Testament prophecy. But ask yourself, how difficult would it have been for the Gospel writers to tell the story of Jesus' life so as to make it conform to Old Testament prophecy? Wouldn't it have been within the power of any mortal to write a book that confirms the predictions of a previous book?" More Than a Carpenter is a profoundly educational read that I found both enlightening and uplifting. Here lies the evidence McDowell found that so supported Christianity in his mind that it led to his conversion experience. Said information was presented in what I think was a suitably easy way to understand for those who have no experience with the faith, but which is still very interesting for those who have spent their entire lives attending Sunday School. My only complaint is that I was hoping for more of McDowell’s own faith story. There were pieces of it scattered throughout the book, but I would have loved a bit more. The last main argumentative chapter suggests that there are so many fulfilled prophecies in the life of Jesus that it is extremely improbable that he isn't the true messiah. This argument suffers from a flaw we discussed earlier: it assumes that what the Gospels say happened actually happened. Sam Harris, in "Letter to a Christian Nation", summarizes the counter-argument rather nicely:

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If you've read any of the New Atheists, it's important to keep the words of King Solomon in mind: 'The first to speak in court sounds right - until the cross-examination begins' (Proverbs 18:17)" (p. 48-9). This is one of those books I read with a highlighter handy. And I ended up highlighting about half the book... And yes, I do think this is playing logic games and twists of real fact for the choir. It's not only for the people in the choir stalls themselves, though. Some outside just roaming around might become interested as some of his better chapters. Freedom to me is not going out and doing what you want to do. Anyone can do that, and lots of people are doing it. Freedom is ‘to have the power to do what you know you ought to do.’ “ More Than a Carpenter” is a dated book. There is no way around it. (see above note) However, for what it is, and its intended audience, I think it is fine for what it seems meant to do. I am not a person who is in doubt about the divinity of Christ, but I am a person who is very intellectual in my approach to many aspects of religion, and I can see why some folks on intellectual grounds disregard it.

Here are my thoughts on this text, which seems to be written with the goal of giving a person intellectual/logical reasons to believe in Christ. Ironically, for a text that makes an intellectual argument for Christ, I found chapter 5 (Who Would Die for a Lie?) and chapter 11 (He Changed My Life) to be the most persuasive aspects of the book. Chapter 5 is a very simple ethical rhetorical appeal that is so simplistic I was stunned momentarily by its power. Chapter 11 is a plain old emotional appeal that is the author’s personal testimony about finding Christ. If one discards the Bible as unreliable historically, then he or she must discard all the literature of antiquity. No other document has as much evidence to confirm its reliability" (p. 87). For starters, McDowell has this somewhat annoying tendency to quote other authors at length. You'll read a chapter and rather than McDowell making his own points, you'll find that often times he punts to other historians and apologists to let them explain in a paragraph-length quote the point that is being made. This gives the impression that the author is too lazy to write his own book; of course, it also gives the impression that there are plenty of good scholars who agree with him. The authors use common questions they've been asked during talks on this topic to start most of the sections, then they answer them using information they've discovered themselves or by quoting other experts. In this revised edition, they added updated material and a new section on science to answer newer objections that have been raised.

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Every time I was around those enthusiastic Christians, the conflict would begin. If you’ve ever been around happy people when you’re miserable, you understand how they can bug you.” In chapter five he asks: "who would die for a lie?" The implication is that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the disciples knew it was a lie. And who would die for such a thing (like the disciples did) if they knew it was a lie? It is more reasonable, says the apologist, to conclude that Jesus really was raised from the dead. I've blogged about this claim before under the title "David Marshall on Christian Martyrs," so here I'll just briefly raise some objections. First, McDowell presents no reliable historical evidence that any of the disciples died for their belief in Jesus' resurrection. He does provide a list of individuals followed by their alleged fates, writing that "They were tortured and flogged, and they finally faced death by some of the cruelest methods then known." But where is the evidence that the list accurately reflects history? McDowell doesn't say! And anyway, even if the disciples did die in the manners described, why assume that either Jesus was raised from the dead or it was all a big hoax? Quite possibly some series of events occurred which convinced the disciples that Jesus had been vindicated and had conquered death, but in reality Jesus had remained as dead as any other animal that's ever died. Isn't it possible that the disciples were just mistaken? People claim to see ghosts all the time, and most of the time I conclude that they are just mistaken. It's not: Either they really saw a ghost or they are a liar. Worth the read. The updated version is still somewhat dated. The truth of peace, happiness, joy despite the troubles and failures and suffering in living coming from self-identity core strengthened by a GOOD loving source is valid for humans. And its being missing in non-believers is observable to far worse outcomes. Measurable too.

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