Hugh Hewitt has asked for responses to the recent Newsweek cover story, which can be read online here, about the birth of Christ. I saw this article in a Borders the other day, barely gave it a second thought. Frankly, I’m used to the Mainstream Media trotting out skeptical stories about anything to do with Christianity at Easter and especially at Christmas.

These articles are mostly pointless, poorly written but full of Renaissance Biblically-themed graphics; so the readers are left with the idea that these are authentic somehow. They remind me of any of the “Mysteries of the Bible” episodes on the Discovery channel. My favorite one of those was the episode on the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 – which is neither mysterious nor in the Bible. Generally, these sorts of articles or documentaries fallow a set template:

  • Present Biblical event agreed upon by Christians of all sects, denominations and groups – from Baptist churches in Waco, TX to Coptic monasteries in the Egyptian desert
  • State that while agreed upon by a large majority of Christians, nevertheless, some scholars/ recent scholarship disagrees with the conclusion of the other 99.999999% of the world’s Christians
  • Interview the scholars with disagreeing information, note that none of these scholars take the Bible as a historically accurate document by presupposition
  • Throw in a few quotes from a Reform, maybe, just maybe a Conservative Rabbi – never an Orthodox Scholar
  • Fail to interview any theologian, pastor, teacher or professor who takes the Bible seriously as a historically accurate document
  • Conclude the document with a nice, sweeping generalization that even if the actual event in question did not happen as described in the Bible, it doesn’t matter, because we all can come together with a heart of faith, to hope for the best in our spirituality and goodwill towards our fellow man

Quite frankly they’re boring articles, and Jon Meacham’s article is no different. It suits the spirit of the age which is nothing more than skepticism and cynicism. For all who have written like Meacham in recent years, the appeal is one of pride. The hope is that by always being skeptical of the silly ol’ traditions that the folks back home believed in, you can achieve a sense of accomplishment over your former equals. Folks like that used to get beat up by their old high school buddies when they went back home in December for the non-sectarian, Winter Solstice, happy, happy, family gift giving time with historic religious overtones on the 25th.

As far as the content of the article, well let me speak as one who has only taken a graduate level course on the Gospels at RTS, involving some study of higher criticism and as someone who has studied dating issues in the four Gospels. I would have gotten a D for this article. It is poorly written, offers no counter to the theme that some scholars dispute Matthew and Luke birth narratives, and disregards the Biblical account as a poor source for itself.

Let’s just look at one quote here from the article:

“Yet almost nothing in Luke’s story stands up to close historical scrutiny; Brown finds it “dubious on almost every score.” Augustus conducted no global census, and no more local one makes sense in Luke’s time frame. Setting Jesus’ birth at a moment when the princes of this world are exerting temporal power over the people is a deft device, though, for the theological point of Jesus’ arrival is that anyone who chooses to believe in him will ultimately be subject only to God. Evoking the prophet Joel in the Book of Acts, Peter says that “it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” and there is nothing any mortal emperor or governor can do to foreclose the promise of the kingdom Jesus said he was offering.”

Really? Who told you that almost nothing stands up to scrutiny in Luke’s nativity setting? Nothing about Zacharias being a Levite serving in the temple? What about Quirinias serving in Syria in 6 or 7 BC? Nothing about Jewish families returning to the city of their birth before census counts? – the Romans didn’t come up with that, try reading the Old Testament and David’s censuses – the Romans had little interest in uprooting the culture of local populations, the wanted their obedience and their money. Next time, try reading books like The Historical Realibility of the Gospels by Blomberg when in doubt over the textual issues in Luke.

It’s interesting that Meacham quotes from Celsus in AD 180 as an early source to doubt the virgin birth. Odd because Celsus was one of the most discredited members of the early church around. He wrote a piece in AD 178 called True Reason vs. Christians – ah, that fits perfect with the Meacham article. 70 years later, even Origen, uneven in many ways theologically, writes to totally discredit Celsus.

The article was the equivalent of a PR piece from a liberal seminary’s magazine. It lost all its credibility when there were no quotes from theologians or professors who do agree with the thesis of Meacham or his main source Raymond Brown, a deceased Roman Catholic priest at Union Theological Seminary (what is a Roman Catholic doing at Union?).

In the long run, Meacham’s article will do little damage, except to those in the MSM who value their position of authority in society, those looking to disregard the gospel message, and those who think they should be able to get by in life by writing in a sloppy fashion.

Christ has come most certainly. As important as the beginning of the incarnation is, it is important to remember that the gospels remain Passion week narratives with long introductions. We work backwards today from the cross and the empty tomb, hopefully backwards to a stable in Bethlehem where we discover again the real miracle of the incarnation, not only in our lives, but in all the world. The invasion of the world by God is a terrible and sweet story, let us not miss it due to Newsweek noise.

For great deconstructions of the Meacham article go and read Al Mohler and MardDRoberts.