Christian Research Institute Journal

Return to Index Page - This File/ Plain Text

Book Reviews

by Stephen E. Parrish, Douglas Groothuis and David A. Reed

a column from the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1993, page 49. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

A Summary Critique

The Case Against Christianity
Michael Martin
(Temple University Press, 1991)

Boston University philosopher Michael Martin holds that previous attacks on Christianity have been disappointing because they have not been systematic. In The Case Against Christianity Martin tries to remedy the deficiency with a critique that is both comprehensive and deep.

According to the atheistic magazine Free Inquiry (Winter 1991/92, p. 50), "in contrast to many books of the genre, Martin has a grasp of much of what is going on in biblical studies, which enables him to argue on the territory of his opponents." Thus, "Christian theologians and philosophers must at least try to respond to [Martin]...if they wish to be taken seriously by their peers." If the atheists are willing to stand behind this work, then Christians should be willing to accept their challenge -- hence this critique.

Martin does not attack belief in the existence of God here; he did that in a previous book.[1] The doctrines he attempts to refute are those of the Apostles', Nicene-Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. He also attacks the doctrine of Jesus as the model of ethical behavior. In short, what he attacks is orthodox Christianity. Martin claims that "I am not so naive as to suppose that the arguments set forth here will induce many people to give up their Christian beliefs. My claim is that in the light of my discussion rational people should give up these beliefs" (p. 5). It is my contention that, on the contrary, Martin fails to fulfill his purpose. To demonstrate this, I will critique some of his primary arguments.


Martin's first important point deals with the historicity of Jesus. He follows the thesis of G. A. Wells, a British professor of German, who maintains that it is probable that Jesus never existed. The bulk of their argument rests on the "silence" of Paul, who -- they maintain -- is surprisingly reticent about the life and teachings of Jesus.

Martin bases his main argument on this silence and puts forth the Negative Evidence Principle (NEP). He explains: "A person is justified in believing that p [i.e., a specific proposition] is false if (1) all the available evidence used to support the view that p is true is shown to be inadequate and (2) is the sort of claim such that if p were true, there would be available evidence that would be adequate to support the view that p is true and (3) the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined" (p. 46).

One problem with this principle lies in point (2). This states, roughly, that in some cases, if p is true there should be adequate evidence to support belief in it. The problem here is that it is often very difficult to say a priori what kind of and how much evidence there should be if p is in fact true.

To give an example: Martin argues that Josephus mentioned Jesus at most once, and that even this mention is doubtful. He claims that if Jesus were a well-known public figure He should have been mentioned more than that, and "thus NEP applies" (p. 49). There are at least two problems with this. First, a strong case can be made that Josephus mentioned Jesus twice.[2] Second, even if Josephus did mention Jesus only once, this would not be that surprising. As R. T. France observes, "John the Baptist, who was in many ways a figure similar to Jesus, mentioned only once, at a similar length, even though Josephus presents him as a significant figure, of sufficient political importance to be executed as a potential leader of revolt."[3]

Further, the name "Christian" is used only once in Josephus, in a passage that Martin and Wells reject. As France points out, then, "Those who suspect the historicity of the Jesus of the Gospels on the grounds that there are so few early non-Christian references to him, must surely, by the same argument, be even more skeptical as to whether the Christian church existed in the first century. But not even George Wells wishes to deny this! As has been so often noted, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."[4]

The point is, it is very hard to say what writers -- especially ancient writers -- "should" have written about. One gets the impression that Martin thinks that every time an early Christian wrote something, he or she should have included a summary of Jesus' life and Christian doctrine.

Paul's silence can be overstated. It should be pointed out that Paul was writing to individuals who already knew much about Jesus. Further, he was concerned "not to retell the Gospel story but to elaborate on key theological and ethical matters and to counter opposition which he faced in various places."[5] Further, Paul is not entirely silent on the historical Jesus; he mentions historical details in Romans 1:3 and 15:3, 8; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 and 15:4-8; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 1:19, 2:9, 3:1, 3:16, and 4:4; Philippians 2:6-8; and 1 Thessalonians 2:15. And Jesus' teachings are quoted or alluded to in other places.[6]

Martin also charges that the Gospels were written very late and contain errors. In response, France says the "attempt to disprove the historical existence of Jesus altogether can only be sustained by opting for the latest dates for the gospels which any New Testament scholars will is interesting to observe that the lateness of the date proposed is often in proportion to the degree of a scholar's skepticism as to their historical value; the cynic might wonder which comes first!"[7]

The fact is that if the Gospels were written earlier than Martin says they were, his thesis collapses. And there are good reasons for preferring earlier dates.[8] For example, Luke's Gospel was probably written before Acts (which was also authored by Luke), and yet Acts should probably be dated before A.D. 63.[9] As for claims of the Gospels being contradictory, one should consult the responses given by evangelical scholars. One place Martin claims there are contradictions is in the resurrection accounts, or at least that they can be made consistent only with the aid of implausible hypotheses (p. 81). Yet John Wenham argues cogently that they are in fact consistent and plausible.[10] Regarding the issue of non-Christian references for Jesus, Murray J. Harris argues persuasively that such testimony to Jesus exists.[11]


The next Christian belief Martin assaults is the Resurrection. There is no space here to deal with all the points he makes, but the following comments illustrate problems with a few of his arguments:


Martin's next attack is against the Incarnation. Here his main fire is directed against the incarnation theory of Thomas Morris.[17] Morris's theory may be summarized as follows: Jesus is a person with two minds, one divine and one human. Morris proposes this theory in order to account for the biblical data of Jesus both being omniscient and limited in knowledge. There is no contradiction here, says Morris, because Jesus' divine mind was omniscient while His human mind was limited. Martin argues that this view is incoherent (pp. 136-37). His line of reasoning is that even if Jesus has two minds, He is still one person, and thus would know everything that both of His minds know. Therefore, Martin states, Jesus the person would still be both omniscient and nonomniscient, which is contradictory.

Martin's critique misses the point. Granted that Jesus with His divine mind would be omniscient, still He would only know things through one of His minds or the other. In other words, Jesus would be limited in knowledge when operating through His human mind. This explains why He often appears to be limited in knowledge; acting as a human being, He limited Himself to what a human being would know.

Martin argues against this kind of theory by bringing up another problem, that the Jesus of the Gospels does not seem to be omnipotent (pp. 139-40). He considers the argument that the reason that Jesus did not act as if He were omnipotent is that He did not know He was omnipotent (p. 140). Martin then demolishes the idea that someone could be omnipotent and remain ignorant of that fact (pp. 140-41). Therefore, Martin concludes that the Incarnation is an incoherent doctrine.

This whole argument is beside the point. Christians should not maintain that Jesus was ignorant of His divine omnipotent power, just that He chose for the most part not to use it. That is, Jesus as a human knew that His divine nature was omnipotent and omniscient, but in order to be a man He chose not to exercise this power most of the time. Usually He acted within the limitations of a man, using only His human powers. The times that He did exercise it was to show forth His divine omnipotent power.

Martin's arguments about what an omnipotent being would do are quite irrelevant. How would we know a priori what an omnipotent being would do? Just because an omnipotent being has infinite power, it hardly follows that he would choose only to perform actions that require infinite power.

In any event, Martin seems to think that we believe Jesus to be omnipotent because of the actions He performed. Rather, the way Christians argue to Jesus' omnipotence is that (1) Jesus claimed to be God incarnate (e.g., John 8:58); (2) He validated this claim by rising from the dead; (3) God is omnipotent; (4) therefore Jesus is omnipotent. This method of reasoning is relevant to other of Martin's arguments, such as on the Virgin Birth (pp. 105-15).[18]

In the remaining chapters Martin continues his attacks with sections on Christian ethics, salvation by faith, the Divine Command theory, and the Atonement. Unfortunately, there is no space here to respond. Let me just say that here, as in the earlier chapters, Martin's arguments are seriously flawed. There is no lack of arguments to critique; for the Christian apologist, his book represents what in military jargon might be called a "target-rich environment." It is encouraging if this is the best that the atheists can do.

About the Author

Stephen E. Parrish is Librarian and Assistant Professor in Philosophy at William Tyndale College in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Dr. Parrish authored The Mormon Concept of God: A Philosophical Analysis with Francis J. Beckwith.


1 Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
2 R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 25-32.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., 44.
5 Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 222.
6 Ibid., 222-33.
7 France, 101.
8 John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992); Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970); E. Earle Ellis, "Dating the New Testament," New Testament Studies 26, 487-502.
9 Wenham, 225-38.
10 John Wenham, Easter Enigma (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).
11 Murray J. Harris, "References to Jesus in Early Classical Authors," in Gospel Perspectives: The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels, ed. David Wenham (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1984), 343-68.
12 Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Guthrie.
13 As told to me by Dr. Habermas in a personal conversation. For a defense of the appearance to the 500, see William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989), 57-63.
14 Gary Habermas, "Affirmative Statement," Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? ed. Terry Miethe (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 23.
15 Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 326-27. See also D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 507.
16 See, e.g., J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971).
17 Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).
18 One final criticism that I will make is Martin's comment on page 122n5. Martin claims there is a contradiction between Jesus being born in a manger and the wise men visiting Him in a house. The answer is that Jesus was born in a manger, and then the family later moved into a house, where the wise men visited. The Bible doesn't say the wise men visited the night Jesus was born. Good grief!

The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options
Stanley J. Grenz
(InterVarsity Press, 1992)

Modern evangelicalism is a broad-based movement of denominations, nondenominational churches, and parachurch organizations that affirm orthodox essentials such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the inspiration of Scripture, and justification by faith in Christ. But part of the strength of evangelicalism is its toleration of doctrinal matters that permit diverse interpretations. One such area is eschatology, the doctrine of last things. Stanley Grenz has done evangelicals a great service in elucidating and evaluating evangelical options in eschatology as well as developing an overall eschatological perspective.

Grenz observes that the secular world yearns for certainty on ultimate matters of destiny, but cannot find it outside of Christ. Yet Christians have a heavenly hope rooted in God's saving revelation. To better understand the nature of our hope, Grenz explains the Bible's apocalyptic literature, a genre dealing with the culminating dramas of the End. He also surveys the history of the church's teaching on the matter of the Millennium (the nature of the thousand-year reign of Christ referred to in Rev. 20:1-4). This historical analysis puts the matter of the Millennium in a wider and richer perspective than would be evident in most popular books on the end times.

After presenting this important background material, Grenz clearly and thoroughly explains the major orthodox positions on the Millennium without caricature and with charity; at the same time he subjects each view to biblical scrutiny. Postmillennialism teaches that a nonliteral millennium began at the coming of Christ and will end at the Second Coming; it has been optimistic about Christianity's prospects in history. Amillennialism also denies a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth and has been less optimistic about the progress of the kingdom before the Second Coming. Dispensational premillennialism insists on a very literal interpretation of prophecy. It understands history as divided in distinct dispensations and looks for a literal millennium on earth after the Second Coming, which will occur only after worsening world conditions. Historic premillennialism also holds to a literal millennium after Christ's return but is less literal in interpreting prophecy.

Grenz's analysis is superbly documented in original sources while managing to avoid being pedantic or arid in style. Although Grenz, who was formerly premillennial, comes down on the side of amillennialism, he always looks for common themes between the various positions and distinctive strengths of each. Not all the views Grenz addresses can be true since they make different theological claims, but all contain truths that have something to teach the whole church.

Grenz concludes with an edifying chapter on "corporate eschatology" which emphasizes that biblical eschatology does not primarily concern the details of the future but rather declares that God's rule has begun through the Incarnation and will be consummated in God's good timing. This should give us confidence to live for Christ today in light of a better tomorrow. Grenz concludes this rewarding book with a stirring question that all evangelicals must answer: "Will we as the church be motivated by the vision of God's ultimate future to be about the Lord's business in the present era until Christ comes in glory and splendor?" (p. 215)

In Search of Christian Freedom
Raymond Franz
(Commentary Press, 1991)

The nephew of recently deceased Watchtower president Frederick Franz left the Jehovah's Witness organization -- and his own position on its Governing Body -- over a decade ago. Since that time, Raymond Franz reveals in his book In Search of Christian Freedom, he has remained "free from denominational ties" (p. 700), fellowshipping primarily with other ex-JWs at religious gatherings in private homes.

While his first book, Crisis of Conscience (Commentary Press, 1983), focused almost entirely on the Witnesses, their history, and the events leading up to his formal break with the sect, this sequel attempts to put all of that into a broader religious perspective and to answer, for other ex-Witnesses, the all-important question: Where do we go from here?

Doctrinally, Franz has come a long way since leaving the Watchtower organization. He confesses that "a considerable portion of what I formerly believed had no sound foundation in Scripture" (p. 705). But he also feels no obligation to adopt doctrinal "orthodoxy," viewing it as merely the majority opinion of "men who constituted what may properly be called 'governing bodies' of the past" (705). In fact, although acknowledging that "many religious organizations are less authoritarian than the one I left" (695), Franz seems to view the Christian community as a whole in much the same light as he now views Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus he estimates that "about the same percentage among Jehovah's Witnesses are true Christians as in any other church" (703).

So, then, where should former Witnesses look for fellowship? The answer Franz offers is "for us to 'go to him [Christ] outside the camp,'" quoting from Hebrews 13:13 (NRSV). He explains that the various Christian denominations are "individual 'camps'" together forming "a very large 'camp' constituting a city-like corporate religious establishment" (698). And he indicates that church membership tends to interfere with "the exercise of personal conscience" and often "robs one of one's freedom and personal integrity" (700). Thus, he concludes, "I believe it is possible to be of greater service, better service, to God, to Christ, and to my fellow man by not linking myself to some system, whether a single denomination or the multi-denominational religious 'establishment' as a whole" (700). And this is the course he recommends, by implication, for others.

But is Raymond Franz really outside the "camp"? Or is he in fact the founder of a fledgling "camp" of his own, a new Watchtower splinter group? He doesn't seem to think so -- and the reader cannot help but be impressed with the sincerity of this man. Yet, persons familiar with Watchtower history cannot help also recalling that the sect's founder, Charles Taze Russell, similarly started out rejecting the religious establishment while providing spiritual leadership to a loose association of independent home Bible study groups. Unlike Russell, though, Franz denies having any "special 'line of communication' with God and his Son that is not available to every other member of the body" (680). Time, of course, will tell whether the fellowship of former Witnesses drawn to Raymond Franz will develop into a new denomination or will remain on the unorthodox fringe of the broader home-church movement.

Although important from the standpoint of revealing where he is leading, it should be noted that Franz confines his repudiation of orthodoxy and the established churches to some 20 pages at the end of this 732-page volume. The rest of the book contains little that traditional Christians would find objectionable, concentrating instead on refuting the Watchtower Society's approach to authority, salvation, evangelism, blood transfusions, church discipline, mind control, and so on.

Some of the ground he covers reiterates points made in Crisis of Conscience, but there is enough new material to make the book of interest to serious students of the Jehovah's Witness movement. After all, Raymond Franz remains the only source of information regarding the inner workings of the sect's Governing Body -- he being the only member of that Body to go public. And he is also privy to many facts not commonly known due to his years with the organization and his worldwide contacts.

For example, he reveals the authorship of several anonymously written Watchtower magazine articles and JW books and exposes the internal politics behind doctrinal changes that Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide accepted as from God. A rare photograph is reproduced showing the sect's second president, J. F. Rutherford, and the rest of the headquarters staff celebrating Christmas in 1926 (149). One of the more interesting anecdotes involves a case of a JW elder arrested in 1987 for using a van with concealed video equipment to spy on members visiting the home of a former Witness. Police interrupted the operation, confiscated the camera, and arrested the Witnesses in the van on charges of invasion of privacy (380-82).

Readers who found Crisis of Conscience tedious will find In Search of Christian Freedom even more so, as it concentrates not so much on the Watchtower's glaring false prophecies and doctrinal reversals as on the more subtle day-to-day influences of legalism, mind control, and organizational authority. Definitely not a primer for readers seeking an introduction to Jehovah's Witnesses, this wordy tome nevertheless proves to be an important primary source for serious students of the sect.

End of document, CRJ0149A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Book Reviews"
release A, August 31, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

This data file is the sole property of the Christian Research Institute. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute"). This data file may not be used without the permission of the Christian Research Institute for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content with the exception of a few brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words.

If you desire to reproduce less than 500 words of this data file for resale or the enhancement of any other product for resale, please give the following source credit: Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000.

More About the Christian Research Journal - Return to Index Page

Christian Research Institute

P.O. Box 7000
Rancho Santa Margarita
California 92688-7000

Visit CRI International Official Web Site: