This book proposes to show the benefits of Christianity which would have been lost, had Jesus never lived. These benefits are summarized on pages 3 and 4. The author is (or was) the chancellor of an evangelical seminary. He holds a Ph.D. in some subject, presumably from some educational institution, not stated in the biographical note at the end. Evidently, critical thinking was not part of his coursework. I read the book hoping that the author would provide some insight into both necessary and sufficient conditions for connections between the teachings of Jesus and advances in the well-being of humanity. No such luck. The short answer to the question "What if Jesus had never been born?" is there would be no Christians, not that the "benefits" which the author attributes to Christianity would not have entered the stream of human history by some other means. For example, the author cites "capitalism and free enterprise" as a "positive contribution Christianity has made through the centuries" (p.3). Capitalism, at least as we know it today, is largely the product of the Industrial Revolution, which itself was the product of the Scientific Revolution. The view of the latter is that the laws of physics govern the universe. God is not in the mix. In fact, one famous mathematician and physicist, when asked about God's place in the development of scientific theory, remarked "I have no need of that hypothesis". As for the resulting Industrial Revolution, the only reason that Karl Marx was able to develop his economic critique was because the exploitation of large numbers of impoverished persons by a wealthy few, all for the sake of increased wealth, was so horrific. The off-shore capitalism of today still uses such means. Or, for example, the author treats the reader to such insightful gems as "Columbus' death-defying voyage was a milestone in history. It's entirely possible that had Jesus never been born, we might never have come over to this continent." (p.76). The obvious question here is: who are "we"? If the author means white Anglo-Saxon protestants, he is, within a very narrow window of time, possibly correct. If he means Europeans, he either does not know or does not recall that the Vikings managed to get to North America several hundred years before Columbus. Whether these particular voyagers were Christian or pagan is beside the point. If he means just some segment of humanity, then I have to suppose that the native populations which the "death-defying" Columbus encountered count for nothing in the historical record of the Americas. Let me take just one final example of the author's thought process. Another of the purported benefits of Christianity is condemnation of homosexuality (again, p.3). Responding to those who argue that Jesus never condemned homosexuality, the author says: "...they ignore the fact that He didn't come to destroy God's law--which expressly condemns homosexuality--but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17)". (p. 135). Apparently, the author has Leviticus 18:22 in mind. Leaving aside the issues of textual interpretation, if the reason to keep the Levitical prohibition as part of one's personal moral code is what the author argues from Matthew, then the Christian proponent had better be an ultra-orthodox Jew who diligently observes all 673 of the commandments of the Torah. Anyone who then wants to cite Paul's excoriation of the "law" forfeits the argument from Matthew, and answers nothing of the original observation concerning what Jesus (not Paul) may (or may not) have thought of homosexuality. Anyone who wants to wade through the book to find the many other examples of rubbish going proxy for analysis is free to do so. I found no gold nuggets in the dross, save one at the very end: "The great secret of life is not to get but to give. In the final analysis, when you look back over all your life, it will be in those moments of selfless giving, in humble bestowal upon others, that you will see that life has taken on its true significance. Compared with all other things, love stands out as the greatest." (p.244). There you have it. Don't bother with the rest.
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Review 2 for What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?
Date:May 26, 2012
I have been a fan of Dr Kennedy since I visited his church back in 1993. Although we are not Presbyterian we have appreciated his teaching and bible knowledge. We were just interested in seeing what he had to say about this subject. We were not disappointed