The Case for the Real Jesus Reading Group Guide

Challenge One Questions:

  • Before reading this chapter, what did you believe concerning the four New Testament Gospels? The other “alternative” ancient documents? What insights did this interview provide?

 

  • Respond to this statement: “Diversity is always good, truth is negotiable, and every opinion is equally valid.”

 

  • Why did date-related issues keep surfacing in this interview, and why must the dates be seriously considered? How willing are you to apply the historical tests Evans mentioned in order to make a reasoned judgment concerning the biblical Gospels?

 

  • For what reasons does Evans believe the Bible’s four Gospels are true? What are his strongest and weakest arguments for their authenticity?

 

  • Which of Evans’ points reinforced or contradicted your beliefs—or at least the perspectives with which you are most familiar?

 

  • How can a person separate reliable evidence from dogmatism and prejudice in weighing scholars’ conclusions?

 

  • What do you discover as you compare and contrast the Gnostic views of Jesus with those found in the four canonical Gospels?

 

  • In what ways has your belief that the Bible is or is not an authoritative guide for faith and practice influenced your spiritual journey?

 

Challenge Two Questions:

  • Before reading this interview, how accurate did you believe the New Testament text to be? Which of Wallace’s points stood out to you? Why?

 

  • According to Wallace, why is it important, when comparing New Testament manuscripts, to distinguish between essentials and particulars when evaluating manuscripts’ reliability?

 

  • How have issues raised concerning the authenticity of biblical texts affected your view of Jesus? Which particular points in this interview might you need to ponder? Why?

 

  • In what ways have your starting presuppositions—whether or not the Bible is divinely inspired, for example—influenced your responses to this interview?

 

  • What was the most significant insight you received as you read this chapter, and how might it influence your view of the Bible?

 

  • Which of Wallace’s points were his strongest? His weakest? If you could ask him one question, what would it be? Why?

 

  • How might Wallace’s assertions that there is no textual dispute over fundamentals related to Jesus influence your thinking?

 

  • Wallace challenged the church to wrestle with Bible-related issues and acknowledge Jesus as the sovereign Lord of the universe. What are his concerns?

 

  • As you read about biblical variants and their impact on essential doctrines of the Bible, what surprised, bothered, or challenged you?

Challenge #3, Part One:

  • Based on Licona’s “five minimal facts,” how strong a case did he build in support of Jesus’ resurrection? Explain your answer.

 

  • Before you read this interview, what did you believe concerning Jesus’ resurrection? In what way(s) have Licona’s statements supported or challenged that belief?

 

  • Based on your current beliefs, in a formal debate would you be a proponent of Jesus’ resurrection—or not? Why?

 

  • Do you agree that everyone—including theists, deists, agnostics, atheists—have biases through which they interpret information and develop theories? What are your biases, and what are you doing to keep them in check?

 

  • How significant was this interview in light of your spiritual journey?

Questions for Challenge #3, Part Two:

  • How does what you have learned, or heard, about Jesus’ resurrection in the past affect your views of God? Of Jesus? Your response to this interview?

 

  • In evaluating theories about Jesus’ resurrection, which one(s) do you think is most plausible? Why?

 

  • Have you studied any world religion other than Christianity? If so, how does what you discovered compare and contrast with what you are reading in these interviews? Which aspects of Christianity are attractive to you? Which aren’t?

 

  • As you read Licona’s responses to alternate theories of Jesus’ resurrection that authors, scholars, and others have developed or promoted, which points did you find most interesting? Why?

 

  • Do you agree with Licona’s assertion that Western culture is looking “for a justification for an alternative to the traditional view of Christianity?” Why or why not? Explain your answer.

 

  • If Jesus’ resurrection was not a very real event of history, what effect would that have on Christianity? On your view of Jesus?

Questions for Challenge #4:

  • As Yamauchi discussed virgin birth and resurrection claims found in various religions, what similarities and differences did you notice? For what reasons did Yamauchi state that the supposed parallels between these religions and Christianity break down?

 

  • What attracts people to books and scholars claiming that key tenets about Jesus, such as his virgin birth and resurrection, were plagiarized from earlier “mystery religions”? How have such claims affected your view of Christianity?

 

  • As you read this interview, which points surprised, challenged, or troubled you? Why?

 

  • Which factors in your life—experience with Christians, unanswered questions, personal suffering, faith of a parent, etc.—have most shaped your perspectives concerning Jesus and biblical Christianity?

 

  • Like other scholars, Yamauchi emphasized the importance of dates in determining relationships between pagan religions and first-century Christianity. Why are such dates significant, and which ones stood out to you?

 

  • Which of Yamauchi’s suggestions on how people can protect themselves from fiction masquerading as fact will be most helpful to you? Why?

Questions for Challenge #5:

  • What are the implications if the Old Testament’s predictions really did come true in Jesus of Nazareth? If they did not?

 

  • How familiar were you with Messianic prophecies before you read this interview with Brown? Would you say that your understanding of them, and your resulting picture of Jesus, has been influenced more by what other people have said or taught about these prophecies—or by what you have discovered for yourself?

 

  • Why have many Jews reacted negatively to the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah who fulfilled the ancient Tanakh prophecies? Respond to Rabbi Waxman’s comment that a person can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus.

 

  • How did you feel as you read this chapter? Surprised? Angry? Confused? Defensive? Hopeful? More certain? (Be honest.)

 

  • What’s at stake—for Jews and Gentiles alike—if Jesus is or is not the Messiah about whom the prophets spoke?

 

  • Which of your questions concerning Jesus remain unanswered, and where might you find answers? How worthwhile would it be for you to dig into information touched on in this interview more deeply?

 

  • Do you think it’s reasonable to infer that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who fulfilled the Messianic prophecies? Why or why not?

 

  • If Jesus did indeed fulfill the Bible’s Messianic prophecies, what does this affirm concerning his identity as a redeemer? Concerning the supernatural nature of the Bible?

 

  • Which of Isaiah’s prophecies regarding Jesus did you find most convincing or most troubling?

Questions for Challenge #6:

  • During your spiritual journey, how have issues of truth, tolerance, and judgment influenced your views of Jesus, the Bible, and the “church”?

 

  • Why have many people embraced a “create-your-own-spirituality” approach to life? If truth becomes only what people think it is or “what works” rather than being rooted in something larger than themselves—such as God’s revelation in the Bible—what are the consequences in such areas as ethics and morality, in determining what is “right” and what is “wrong,” in judging truth from untruth, in discovering the “real” Jesus?

 

  • Would you define yourself as a “syncretist”? Why or why not? What criteria do you use to determine spiritual truth?

 

  • In your experience, when syncretists enthusiastically fashion their own spiritualities and communicate them, how tolerant are they of people whose spiritual faith is built on diametrically opposed presuppositions to theirs (personal vs. impersonal God, Jesus being the only way to God vs. all paths lead to God, etc.)? At what point can seeming tolerance breed an arrogant form of intolerance?

 

 

  • Respond to Copan’s statement: “Truth is true even if no one knows it, admits it, agrees with it, follows it, or even fully grasps it.”

 

  • When people “customize” Jesus into who they want him to be in order to fit their individual worldviews, what may be gained? What may be lost?

 

  • Which specific issues or questions in this interview most challenged you? Why? As you compared your view of spiritual truth to Copan’s statements, what did you discover? How do you choose the truths by which you desire to live, and what demands do they put on you?

 

  • Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “What we believe about Jesus doesn’t really affect who he is because our beliefs cannot change reality”? Why? (243)

 

  • From what you know of the biblical Jesus, do you agree or disagree with Copan’s statement: “Christianity isn’t primarily about subscribing to a set of doctrines. Christianity is focused on the person of Christ. We’re called into a relationship.” (239)

 

  • To what extent will you continue to wrestle with ideas from this book? How have your beliefs about Jesus Christ—who he is, what he said, the impact he continues to have on culture, the salvation the Bible says he offers—changed? In what ways are you drawn toward, or away from, the Jesus of the Bible? Why? Do you know enough to encounter and experience the real Jesus?

 

  • If you accept the fact that God has supernaturally entered our world and spoken through Christ, who was resurrected, what other beliefs will you have to accept—including some that might be troubling?

 

  • How willing are you to take Jesus of Nazareth and his teaching seriously—even if his teaching may not sit comfortably with you?

 

  • Do you believe that God could speak special revelation authoritatively for all times and cultures, offering a way to know truth with confidence? Why or why not?