A while ago (three months, in fact!), I opened up a discussion about the Trinity. Please read that before reading this.
In that post, the main goal I had was to raise awareness of the fact that if anyone claims to trust Jesus, then they need to ask: Which Jesus? Or better: Whose Jesus? Most people have heard of Jesus. Some people claim to hate/dislike Jesus (or at least they think they do, probably because they dislike those who have claimed to be following Jesus!). Others claim to respect/trust/love Jesus. I specifically wanted to address the second group.
If you consider yourself one of these people, then I think it’s essential for you to realize what maybe you haven’t considered too carefully before: the Jesus you’re encountering comes to you second-hand. No matter what. No exception. You did not watch Jesus in action. The storytellers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John apparently do a successful job of bringing you into their story, because you forget for a moment, at least, that you’re in their story.
I had an experience recently. One of my children ran to me and proclaimed, “Dad, I finished my food! Now I get dessert!” I congratulated him on his accomplishment. I ushered him in to get his dessert. “Well done!” Later that night, I opened the silverware drawer as I unloaded the dishwasher. There, sitting on top, was a dirty spoon. I laughed: he tried his hardest to clean up after himself, not knowing he was actually creating a bigger mess by putting a yogurt-covered spoon in the drawer. Too cute, though. As I picked up the spoon, I had a moment of realization: I never located the supposedly empty yogurt container that should have accompanied that spoon. I looked to the spot on the table. Not there. I searched the counters. Still nothing. I explored the trash cans. There, at the bottom, was an upside-down yogurt container. I lifted it up, and below it was a puddle of yogurt. Turns out, he tried to hide the evidence, but he underestimated my investigative prowess. A story is only as reliable as the one telling it.
When we claim we trust in Jesus, we usually mean that we trust in the Jesus that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us about. (I’m leaving aside for the moment claims of direct encounters with Jesus that people might make. Even there, eventually their encounters will have to be put up against the accounts of Jesus we have in the Bible.) So we trust in Jesus. Great. But we have to ask, Do we trust Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? This is the second domino. If you trust in the Jesus you encounter in, say, Luke, then you are either implicitly or explicitly, knowingly or unknowingly, trusting in Luke to share truthfully with you.
This has several implications that you have to wrestle with. If you trust, say, in the Jesus you encounter in Luke’s portrait of Jesus’ teaching ministry, then you have no reason for not trusting in his portrait of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is no immediately logical reason as to why you would accept one and not the other.
Perhaps you might respond, “Well, I like what I see in Jesus’ teaching, but I’m just not fully on board with the weird death-and-resurrection thing.” That’s fine. But you must be willing to admit that you’re making that decision simply because it’s what you like. It’s based on literally nothing. Well, actually, let me take that back. In this particular example, it’s likely due completely to the fact that you’ve uncritically adopted a modern perspective that likes “morals” and “teachings,” but squirms at something as “primitive” as a tale of someone coming back to life. So really, you’re trusting in that modern framework, and allowing bits of Luke’s story in that already fit with what you already want to believe. Either way, you’re trusting in someone’s story.
If you are willing to trust Luke’s ability to speak truthfully at one point, then you must be open to his ability to speak truthfully at all points. Further, if you question him at one point, then you must question him at all points. And if you do question him, then you have to clarify upon what grounds you question him. You have to identify what else you’re trusting in. For Luke, the portrait of Jesus he wishes to paint is seamless, so that the one who teaches is the one who dies and is raised. If you don’t trust him on the latter point, then you have good reason to distrust him on the former.
This then moves toward the next domino. Let’s say you’re at least on board with the fact that your trust in Jesus depends on your trust in Luke as faithful storyteller. The next question you have to wrestle with is, Why can/should/do I trust Luke?