C. Stephen Evans’ The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith is, at its most basic, a defense of the historical reliability of the gospel narrative. At the outset of his work, however, Evans explains that his aim is not apologetic per se, but an attempt to provide a “convincing account” of why knowledge of the gospel story is valuable and why those who hold to the truth of the story of Jesus are justified in doing so (vii). Evans develops his project primarily within the realm of philosophy, answering questions related to the reasonableness of the incarnation, the possibility of religious knowledge and other areas of epistemology, while also considering important contributions from other branches of biblical and theological study. He concludes his study by arguing for the practical value of such a project: Although the Holy Spirit can create genuine, justified belief without apologetic argument, He often uses strong, coherent arguments to challenge unbelief and cultivate faith in those who otherwise would not see religious faith as a serious option.
One of the primary strengths of Evans work is his dismissal of the false dichotomy that has been drawn between faith and history (=reason) since the enlightenment. The distinction “between what we ‘know’ on the basis of objective evidence, and what we ‘believe’ on the basis of subjective commitment is no longer tenable” (11), according to Evans. Indeed, Evans’ work is itself based on the assumption that the Christian faith is an historical faith—not historical in the sense that the story is merely conveyed in an historical setting (i.e., in a time and place different from our own; see also p.183), but historical in the sense that what is conveyed truly happened. Consequently, Evans acknowledges the reality that there is no such thing as “pure history.” The various components of the gospel narrative cannot be separated into theological and historical categories: what appear to be mere historical statements (e.g. Jesus the Son of God dies on the cross for our sins) are loaded with theological and philosophical presuppositions that determine the validity of such statements. Thus, Evans concludes, “The defense of the narrative as historically true must therefore involve the consideration of theological and philosophical issues, as well as ‘pure’ historical ones” (6). Evans’ work as a whole proceeds on this premise, providing several keen insights that bolster one’s belief in the validity of the gospel account.
One wonders if Evans’ goal of attempting to provide a “convincing account” of why knowledge of the gospel story is valuable (and not vital or essential or indispensable) unavoidably leads him to conclude that the lack of conscious faith in such knowledge does not necessarily exclude people from God’s kingdom (see 115). To conclude that lack of knowledge of the gospel narrative is not necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God appears to me to undermine Evans’ entire project. Why provide a ‘convincing account’ of why knowledge of the gospel story is valuable at all? In what way is this knowledge valuable? Evans’ answer to the “value” question is less than satisfying (see last paragraph on p.115). Evans goes so far as to claim that “almost no Christian theologian today does in fact hold that explicit faith in Jesus in this life is necessary for salvation” (107). Certainly there are many Christian theologians that hold to this kind of inclusivism, but to state without qualification that exclusivism has few to no proponents appears to misrepresent the case.