Rice Broocks. Man, Myth, Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question. Nashville: W Publishing Group (an Imprint of Thomas Nelson), 2016. See here to buy the book.
Rice Broocks wrote the apologetic book, God’s Not Dead, which was the inspiration for the 2014 Christian movie of that name. Man, Myth, Messiah is associated with that movie’s sequel, God’s Not Dead 2. The character Jesse Metcalfe plays in God’s Not Dead 2 is actually reading Man, Myth, Messiah in a scene. Whereas the book and the movie God’s Not Dead focused largely on arguments for the existence of God, God’s Not Dead 2 and Man, Myth, Messiah look more at the issue of Jesus: did he exist, and are the things that the New Testament says about him historically accurate?
Here are some thoughts about the book Man, Myth, Messiah:
A. If you have already read Christian apologetics (i.e, William Lane
Craig, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, Josh
McDowell, David Marshall, etc.), you will be bored with Man, Myth, Messiah, perhaps even underwhelmed. Overall, the apologetics parts of the book did not cover significantly new ground.
B. There were a few parts of the apologetics sections that
interested me. Broocks talks about references by the church fathers to
miracles in their day, as well as undesigned coincidence in John 6’s
story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. On the latter, Broocks argues
that a detail in Luke 9:10 explains why Jesus asks Philip in John 6:5
where they can buy bread: Luke 9:10 says the miracle occurred near
Bethsaida, and John 12:21 says that Bethsaida was Philip’s hometown.
Broocks states that “These connections and other similar examples show
that the gospel stories were based on actual historical events.”
C. Broocks talks in the book about the importance of respecting
atheists: of listening to what they have to say before responding.
Broocks refers to Christians who inspired him in his own life,
Christians who did not judge non-Christians but walked the Christian
Unfortunately, Broocks did not model this approach in this book.
Although he quotes atheists, skeptics, and people who do not believe as
he does (i.e., the Jesus Seminar), he rarely engages their actual
arguments. An exception would be his chapter that argues against the
skeptical claim that Jesus was based on pagan religions. Overall,
though, Broocks talks as if atheists and skeptics have no logical or
evidential basis at all for their beliefs, and that they are simply
rebelling against God.
In my opinion, there are atheist and skeptical arguments that deserve
serious engagement. Broocks says that the evidence for Jesus is as
reliable as the evidence for Alexander the Great, but Richard Carrier
has argued that there is more evidence for Alexander the Great. Broocks
says that the early Christians could not have hallucinated the risen
Jesus, but Bart Ehrman refers to hallucinations of religious figures to
show that this is a possibility. Broocks casually dismisses the Jesus
Seminar, but the Jesus Seminar uses actual criteria in determining what
in the Gospels is authentic, and what is inauthentic or implausible. I
could list more examples.
Broocks could say that he did not want to complicate the book with
rabbit trails, but that he was writing an introductory apologetics work
that could equip Christians with decent arguments. Fine, but Broocks
could have displayed some acknowledgment of nuance in the book, every
now and then. Plus, if the book fails to engage other points-of-view
adequately, then is it actually equipping Christians to engage or debate
D. There were areas in which I thought that Broocks was rather
inconsistent. Broocks refers to Irenaeus’ Against Heresies 3.1.1, which
says that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew during the ministry of Peter
and Paul, and that Mark and Luke wrote after the deaths of Peter and
Paul. Broocks is probably appealing to church tradition to argue that
the Gospels were written by the people who bear their names. But
Broocks appears to posit a different scenario for the Gospels’
composition from what Irenaeus presents. Broocks agrees with many
scholars that Mark’s Gospel was written first and that Matthew and Luke
used Mark’s Gospel as a source. Broocks believes that Matthew’s Gospel
was written after Luke’s Gospel, and in the late 70’s-80’s (which
presumably was after the lifetimes of Peter and Paul). That appears to
be different from what Irenaeus says. What does that say about the
reliability of church tradition?
E. I think that Broocks could have done a better job in explaining
the significance of some of the details that he was mentioning. For
example, how exactly does the multitude of New Testament manuscripts
show that the New Testament as we know it matches the New Testament that
was originally written down? Broocks said that certain New Testament
events are attested in multiple independent sources, but what are those
sources? And, rather than simply saying that skeptics have a higher
standard of historicity when looking at the New Testament than they have
for other ancient sources, perhaps Broocks would have done better to
have discussed how historians determine what is historical: Do they
simply believe whatever is written down? If not, what criteria do they
use? Broocks interacted with some of these issues, on some level: he
referred to specific multiple sources in arguing that Jesus historically
died, and he mentioned the importance of sources being close to the
events themselves. Overall, though, Broocks book was not very critical,
in terms of methodology. On a positive note, Broocks does quote
scholars, so perhaps that is an asset to this book: it can point readers
to sources that do a better job, in terms of critical methodology.
F. Broocks has a chapter explaining why Jesus had to die.
Essentially, Broocks articulated the concept of penal substitution,
which states that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, in our place.
The chapter was typical of many evangelical articulations of penal
substitution, and it raised the same questions in my mind that those
other articulations raise. For example, if God needs to punish people’s
sin to be just and to uphold some moral order, how exactly is God being
just by punishing someone for something that somebody else did?
Believers in penal substitution like to make courtroom analogies, but
how often do courts punish a person for somebody else’s crime? Broocks
at one point does distinguish between sins against others and sins
against God: he says that people have to pay for their sins against
others, but he asks how we could pay for our sins against God? Broocks
here is probably just setting the stage rhetorically for explaining why
Christ had to die for our sins.
G. The apologetic parts of the book were largely a turn-off to me,
but the more personal parts of the book were rather endearing. Broocks
talks some about his own up-and-down experiences with Christianity, the
miracles he has seen and heard about, and his skeptical brother’s
conversion to Christ.
H. The parts of the book about following Christ struck me as saying
that we should obey, obey, obey, regardless of how we feel. That was
balanced out, somewhat, by Broocks’ telling of the faith journeys of
Augustine and John Wesley. Wesley, for some time, really struggled with
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the
publisher through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.