Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Three-Run Triple

That's how I would describe the third installment of Thomas Cahill's "Hinges of History" series entitled, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. To complete the analogy; his first book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, was a home run in the 8th or 9th inning for a team down by a few runs but who ultimately wins, revitalized by the solo shot. I was not expecting that book to be as good as it is and dedicated myself to the whole series, after having read it. It enlightens us on an aspect of Western history that we know little about and gives me greater appreciation for Celtic Christianity's role in the history of the Church and Her development and influence in that particular period. Cahill's second book, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, is a flat out grand slam (read my views on it here). It is vital for every Christian to be intimately familiar with the Old Testament. Cahill makes the point that, in order to truly understand who we are and from whence we've come as a civilization, it is vital for every westerner, regardless of religion or lack thereof, to understand Jewish history and how they revolutionized the world.

So why is his latest book a three-run triple? I've scored this hit with particularity. First of all, I just can’t bring myself to call it a home run, due to that fact that Cahill would not allow himself to proclaim that Jesus is God or that the New Testament proclaims such a message. I John 5:12 states, "He who has the Son has the life." If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, you don’t "have the Son." While, refreshingly, Cahill often challenges some of the popular and ridiculous conclusions of the Jesus Seminar — and others of their ilk — regarding the historicity of the Gospels, at other times he follows the modern, antisupernaturalist scholarly line, proposing that the divinity of Jesus is a development of the later Church and not something that anyone who actually knew Jesus actually believed.

"In this dialogue [between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4], as in the one with Nathaniel [in John 1], Jesus possesses some of the ease and humor of the Synoptic Jesus surely, but he is now all-knowing, which he is never shown to be in Mark and Matthew, and of which there are but occasional flashes in Luke." (p. 268)

"… never shown to be in …"?!?! A cursory reading of any Gospel reveals Jesus as divine and each clearly portrays Him as sharing in the Father's omniscience. To deny this is to be caught up in the criticism and skepticism of a New Testament scholarship that won’t let the Bible say what it actually and plainly says. For all of the wonderful truths that Cahill brings to light, I can’t call his book a home run because he won’t call Jesus God or let the early Christians believe that He was. The book has many such uncomfortable and ultimately disagreeable moments and it is clear that he did not even try to engage with any conservative New Testament scholarship that would challenge these critical/skeptical views.

But on to the three runs. As with his other books, Cahill writes compellingly and makes connections that aren't always made in Biblical/historical studies. The first chapter of the book is a 50-page account of Greco-Roman history and how that history involved and influenced the Jews. This introduction sets the stage for the kind of Savior that the people in the first century, of whatever persuasion, would have been expecting. The remaining chapters reveal how Jesus met all such expectations, no matter how unexpectedly He may have done so, and how His Person is interwoven into the fabric of our civilization in a way that we will never be able to get rid of, nor should we attempt to. Cahill talks about Jesus as a new believer might, with fresh insights that those of us who have walked with Jesus for some time may have forgotten or at least failed to reflect on recently. The book is not recommended for someone looking for Evangelical exposition or even broadly Christian theological reflection. It is recommended for someone who is looking for good writing and a perspective on Jesus that is unique and that will cause you to be that much more appreciative of your Christian heritage. I don’t intend for the three runs to correspond to three particular truths that I think Cahill poignantly illiterates. I do intend for the three runs to convey that, even though it's not a home run, Desire of the Everlasting Hills is worth reading and has whet my appetite for book four.