Recent Cultural Developments and Jesus
by John Telgren
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I was browsing the bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and noticed that the number of books related to the "true" identity and history concerning Jesus and Christianity has multiplied.
In the past couple of decades, this sort of material has been limited to a few liberal scholars who proposed wild theories about the origins of Christianity and the composition of the Gospels. They made a drastic distinction between the "Christ of faith" and the "Jesus of history," as if the two were very different persons, the former being a legendary creation of subsequent generations of believers. This type of material is has now filtered its way down to the popular level through literature and movies.
People like Dan Brown, who wrote The DaVinci Code, count on the fact that most people, including Christians, do not know early church history, nor do they know the history of the Christian Bible. At the front of his book, his so-called "fact" sheet attempts to convince readers that only the story line is fictional. The last line of his fact sheet reads, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Brown puts just enough truth in his fairy tale to make it sound credible to the less educated. In effect, Brown tries to pass off his novel as some sort of historical fiction. With the other books that have been released on this subject, supposedly a huge "cover-up" concerning Jesus has been exposed.
With the increasing number of "true" histories of Jesus and Christianity, which are supposedly free from trappings of faith, more people are asking questions we would have never thought people would ask with any seriousness. I have always believed that it is very beneficial to know your history, especially the history of our faith. With these developments, most of which are based in fanciful speculation rather than proven historical fact, there are even more reasons why it is good to know our history. There are a number of well-written, well-researched histories of Christianity and the English Bible that are written on the popular level. Neil Lightfoot's How We Got the Bible is an excellent survey of where the Bible came from. Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language is an excellent history of the church that is enjoyable to read.
I am excited about what God may have in store for the future. Some lament our recent cultural developments and how it has moved away from God. One thing we need to keep in mind is that Jesus' kingdom is not, and never has been of this world. The cultural Christianity in American history has obscured this significant fact. We stand poised to truly be light in the darkness. We can be that voice crying out in the parched wilderness. Early Christians were definitely not mainstream, yet it was in this that God used them in a powerful way to bring his message all over the world. Will the secularization of American culture stifle God's message in us? Jesus said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against us, and history bears witness to this.
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