Cynic Sage or Son of God?

Cynic Sage Or Son Of God
  • Book Title: Cynic Sage or Son of God?
  • Author: Gregory A. Boyd
  • Publisher: Baker Book House (Jun 1, 1996)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0801021189
  • ISBN-13: 9780801021183
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In this extremely readable book, Boyd sets out to expose and critique certain modern theories of New Testament scholarship that argue for an historical Jesus who is more like a Greco-Roman, wandering, Cynic sage than the Jewish, messianic Son of Man that the Bible portrays.

The modern New Testament theories under analysis are those promulgated by two highly visible members of the Jesus Seminar: John Dominic Crossan and Burton Mack. As Boyd explains, the Jesus Seminar in general, and these two men in particular, have embarked on a very public mission of deconstructing the traditional, biblical paradigm of Jesus and replacing it with a radical, non-biblical, understanding that is more palatable to the modern, naturalistic worldview. Recognizing the danger that this shift in paradigms poses to the mission of evangelicals and the sloppy reasoning used to support it, Boyd has written this book as a deliberately focused critique.

From the outset of this book, Boyd's worldview is clear—he believes the New Testament literature to be a reliable source of evidence for the person of Jesus. More than just reliable, he maintains that the canon is the preferred evidence. His arguments do not presuppose the texts to be inspired, however it is clear that he personally maintains this belief. Rather, his arguments call for the texts to speak for themselves, over and against the extra-canonical and hypothetical texts that post-Bultmanian scholars prefer.

I found this book to be very readable. In part, this is due to Boyd's choice of language. None of the concepts or terminology seemed difficult to grasp. Considering his intended audience, this is an invaluable asset. More important than the language though, is the book's organization. His methodology of proceeding from the general to the specific is instrumental to this, and so is the overall progression starting with the history of the Jesus Quest, moving through a thorough critique of Crossan and Mack, and ending with a defense of the traditional New Testament historiography's. This simple methodology results in a book which almost reads itself.

More important than his overarching structure, however, is his deft handling of the Cynic sage theories. Near the center of the book, in chapters 5-7, Boyd engages in a systematic dismantling of the arguments used to defend the Cynic sage thesis. He does so by exposing the presuppositions and circular logic which comprise the arguments and blind the men who make them. Step by step, Boyd removes every stone from the edifice of the Cynic sage thesis and demonstrates that the entire theory is a travesty of historical research. After reading this book, one cannot help but see that the lines of reasoning used by Crossan and are ridiculous. Their conclusions are exposed to be a gross example of circular logic. Boyd shows, in no uncertain terms, that the Cynic sage theories can only be offered if its defendants actually begin with the presupposition that Jesus was not as he is presented in scripture. In essence, the theories can only be maintained if one rejects the evidence in preference of an unwarranted, naturalistic worldview.

Personally, I cannot commend the section enough. Any faults this book may have almost disappear in blinding success of this section. It is an invaluable response to not only the Cynic sage theories, but also to the general pattern of offering alternative views of Jesus. Despite the postmodern tendency to discredit completely naturalistic worldviews and actually accept a semblance of the supernatural, contemporary scholars still are trying to reduce the Man of God to the man of earth. This phenomenon is not limited to scholars either. Boyd correctly recognizes that the Jesus Seminar and its constituents have reached the masses, even the churched masses. The truth of scripture is threatened by this confluence of scholarly energies which seeks to rewrite Jesus in their own image. The people of the world, and especially we evangelicals, need to recognize what Boyd aptly exposes, namely that the image in which Jesus is being rewritten is not the image of history.

As a tightly focused critique, this book succeeds in exposing "the arbitrary presuppositions, the faulty lines of reasoning, the circular methodologies, and the speculative assumptions which characterize the Cynic thesis." However, I believe it could have been better had Boyd offered a concluding chapter which did two things. First, recapitulate the main steps in his critique—a master summary of sorts. Second, offer a succinct alternative to Crossan's and Mack's Cynic sage theories. Granted, he prefaces his work with an explanation that offering a thorough historical account is beyond his narrow thesis. However, I believe the need can be met without a thorough historical account. In fact, due to his success in defending the canonical texts, a fitting alternative could be a retelling of the Gospel's main points. He has already defended the Gospel in piecemeal throughout the book, and a gathering of these elements into a concluding chapter would serve well for his apologetic objective. If done right, it would not detract from the professionalism of his work, and would encourage the readers to explore the Gospels and discover the historical Jesus.

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