Jesus Skeptic was provided to me by Baker Books for an honest review. Lets be honest, Christianity has not always been a force for good. A big reason is because well... some Christians are awful. Some have done terrible unspeakable acts in the name of Jesus. This has led many to become skeptical of Christianity. John S. Dickerson was one of them. He is an award-winning journalist that has worked for news outlets such as the New York Times and USA Today. His journalism lead him on an investigation towards the credibility and impact of Christianity. Does this sound familiar to another well known skeptical journalist that did a similar investigation? Many have heard about Lee Strobels investigation to prove that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen. That backfired in a way that led him from atheism to Christianity. While John S. Dickerson does not claim he was an atheist, he does state he did not believe in God at one point in his life. He had a strong skepticism towards Jesus and the largest movement in human history: Christianity. While Strobel and Dickersons investigations are similar, the evidence they search for is different. Strobel looked at ancient literature, archaeology, manuscripts, and medical evidence.
Dickerson looks at the worlds most monumental human breakthroughs. Some of thesebeing the quality of life, education, hospitals, racial and gender equality, and the ending of slavery. His investigation was anchored under five major breakthroughs:
1. The launch of the scientific revolution.
2. The birth of the modern university.
3. The founding of modern medicine and modern hospitals.
4. The end of open slavery.
5. The creation of social literacy.
Dickerson makes a case for these breakthroughs using primary evidence. This is evidence void of any tampering or bias.
Dickersons preludes his message with a clever analogy of how sea otters are a keystone species to ocean life. Biologists have learned that the entire ocean ecosystem is dependent on the existence of sea otters. When sea otters are present, ocean life thrives. But If sea otters were completely removed, ocean life deteriorates and the entire ecosystem falls apart. He parallels this 'sea otter effect' to Christians being a keystone movement for the entire human race and society. So much of what society has today is because of Christianity, motivated by Jesus life and teachings. One example of a 'sea otter effect' Christianity produces would be womens rights. The top ten best nations for womens rights have a high percentage of Christians living in those nations as opposed to the top ten worst nations. The top ten with a Christian culture greater than 50 years have a high population of Christians living in those nations.
As for the scientific revolution, an overwhelming amount of its founders were Christian. Some of the greatest mysteries of the universe were discovered by devout believers in Jesus. Sir Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity and he loved studying the Bible in every language possible. Johannes Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion despite his efforts of wanting to be a pastor or a priest. His writings revealed his strong belief in Jesus. Blaise Pascal invented a mechanical calculator which many consider as the first computer in history. His writings revealed how science and Christianity are compatible and even wrote a poem devoted to Jesus. Robert Boyle, known as the father of modern chemistry, was also a devout believer that used science to support Christianity. He wrote about theology and even gave money to missionary organizations. Some of his donations help promote the translation of the Bible to other languages. John Ray was the founder of our modern understanding of biology and zoology. He wrote entire books about Jesus in addition to his books about science. Out of 52 of the most influential scientists who launched the Scientific Revolution, 98 percent of them were committed Christians. This was clear when looking at their journals and personal artifacts. As a note, that list of 52 was chosen by a secular group.
When it comes to the modern university, Christians founded the original ones in the western worldbeing Oxford and Cambridge. They then started multiplying across Europe. The spread continued to North America with universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. In fact the first nine universities in North America (most still regarded as the best in the country and even the world) were all founded by various Christian groups. The motive and purpose was to teach people the Bible. The top ten universities in the world were all founded by Christians, all with the purpose of training students in the Bible.
Modern Medicine and Modern Hospitals
With modern medicine and modern hospitals, it is much of the same. Christians were engaged in caring for the sick while the scientific revolution was being launched. Edward Jenner found a monumental discovery with creating the first vaccine. His invention has saved hundreds of millions of lives. Florence Nightingale innovated the way nursing was done. She created wards and divisions within hospitals. She pioneered the use of charts and statistics within medical care. Johns Hopkins was a major innovator of the modern hospital and founded one of the worlds best hospitals. The world famous Mayo Clinic would not exist had it not been from the influence of a catholic nun named Mary. Her motivation to care for the sick and poor convinced the Mayo family to open a hospital. The top ten hospitals in the United States shows that almost all its founders were Christian. They declared their faith was the motivation to establish these hospitals. If we look at hospitals ranked eleven to twenty, six of them have the same pattern. Dickerson suggests that if someone were to examine the top one hundred or even five hundred hospitals in the world, the majority would likely have been started by the Christian faith.
End of Open Slavery
Dickerson also concludes Christianity was a major force towards the end of open slavery. Harriet Tubman not only escaped slavery, but often risked her life trying to help other slaves escape. Despite all the years of great difficulty, she remained a follower of Jesus. Frederick Douglas also escaped from the abuse and inhumane treatment of being a slave. As a slave, He converted to Christianity at the age of thirteen. He used the teachings of Jesus and the Bible to start a nationwide movement against slavery. Some of those teachings was breaking the bonds of the oppressed and setting the captives free''. William Wilberforce who became a Christian was also influenced by the teachings of Jesus. He gave the rest of his life to end slavery in Britain which expanded beyond the British empire including India. Elijah Parish Lovejoy was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slave society. As a pastor and a newspaper editor, he often declared slavery a 'sin' and 'anti-Christian' which cost him his life. William Lloyd Garrison wrote the first declaration for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He also published an antislavery newspaper called the Liberator. John Rankin was a Presbyterian minister that spoke out against anyone in his congregation that were slave owners. He used his home to help many escape slavery despite it being burned down multiple times by pro-slavery mobs. Among the most influential people for racial equality was Martin Luther King Jr. His speeches, sermons, and writings show a clear message that he was motivated by the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. Dickerson concludes that, If you remove these sincere Christian followers from world history, you get a very different world than the one we were born into. Not just a few of the influential abolitionists were Christians; no, every single influential abolitionist I studied was Christian.
When it comes to social literacy, Dickerson demonstrates how there was an explosion of people being taught to read in the 1600s. This happened in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. These were all nations dominated by Christianity and the emphasis of teaching people to read the Bible for themselves. The fact that I am able to read this book and write a review on it today is because of Christianity. As recently as one hundred years ago, the global average of people who could read was only twenty-one percent. So one out of five people in the world knew how to read.
To me, these findings taken as a whole are notable in measuring whether Christianity is a force for good or not. The evidence led me to a bold but undeniable conclusion: whether I like Jesus's followers or not, whether I believe in Jesus's spiritual claims or not, Jesus bears studying, for his movement has been by multiple measures among the most powerful movements for social good in all of human history. - page 177
Whether we believe that Jesus is God or not, his outrageous prediction has come true. Impossible as it was, Jesus's followers have spread his name to the ends of the earth. Jesus's movement is Godlike in its massive size and historic influence. It is unrivaled. And it turns out that Jesus's movement is also unique in that its growth was predicted not only in size but also in geography, time, and trajectory. - page 240
Dickerson supports his quotes from a few graphs he provides to show the powerful influence Jesus has.98 (past and present) nations or empires have been modeled by Jesus as a Christian state. This is far greater than the27 Marxist and Muslim nations. Even when you compare followers of Jesus versus followers of modern celebrities. The number of Instagram followers dont even dare come close to the 2.3 billion people that not only follow Jesus, but worship him as God.
Historian H.G. Wells concludes that Im a historian. Im not a believer. But I must confess as a historian, this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all of history. Historian Jaroslav Pelikan shares that Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his [Jesuss] name, how much would be left?
Jesus Skeptic is not a perfect book. It has an over usage of the statements, as a reporter as a researcher, as a journalist, or as a skeptic. The reader does not need over ten reminders of Dickerson's career or worldview. There are also no large coloured photos to show these historical writings and artifacts. Readers are instead left with small black and white photos that are difficult to read. These small problems can be overlooked by the immense amount of research Dickerson provides to make a strong case for Jesus. His investigative research crafts a concise book filled with unbiased historical information. Jesus Skeptic will at the very least enlighten readers about the incredible amount of good Christianity has done for the world. Or at the very most, inspire skeptics to investigate Jesus further the way Dickerson did.
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