United Kingdom: The Good Book Company, 2019
In an age when supposedly intelligent pundits can openly question whether Jesus even existed, this is a work to be welcomed and studied. Dickson makes the crucial point that we all operate on some kind of faith basis in the everyday things of life, or we would not operate at all. The most hardened atheist, for example, accepts the testimony of Pliny the Younger about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In a somewhat similar way there is no reason to cast doubt on Jesus’ teaching about retrieving a child or an ox which falls down a well on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5). It carries its own validity with it. Unbelievers routinely accept Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander, even though he wrote some 400 years after Alexander the Great’s death. In short, the Gospels, while supernatural, read well naturally.
Dickson’s great strength is his capacity to demonstrate the reasonable nature of believing in the historicity of the facts of the Christian Gospel. A. C. Grayling dismisses the account of the resurrection of Christ as requiring faith which is ‘ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant’. Such an approach is dismantled by Dickson. He handles the evidence with assurance and a clarity that should prove helpful to all readers.
As an apologetic work, however, it is open to some criticisms. First, it is fair to say that Dickson does not take enough cognizance of the biblical teaching that sinners suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom.1:18). It is sin, more than a lack of evidence, which keeps us from God (see p.152 for Dickson’s mild statements about where the evidence leads). Secondly, Dickson is too concessive to modern scholarship. The assertion that ‘Paul certainly did not know the Gospel of Mark’ (p.61) is vigorously put, but lacking in evidence. To date Matthew and Luke in the 70s-80s, and John in the 90s (p.76) is to assume that Paul preached without the benefit of a written Gospel – which is surely stretching probability. Dickson himself concedes that Paul assumes that his readers knew the life of Jesus (p.110). An oral tradition undoubtedly existed; that it lasted as long as Dickson thinks is doubtful, in my view. Thirdly, Dickson commends an author as theologically wayward as James Dunn (e.g. p.156), but this is to cast the evangelical net far too widely.
This is a most worthwhile work, but its strength is also its weakness. Historical reasonableness is important, but may also be a substitute for facing the claims of Christ.