Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | August 19, 2020

Too Good To Be False

(5 Minute Read. 19Aug2020)

A terrific book title is priceless.

Back in 1953 British Bible scholar and translator J. B. Phillips (1906–1982) wrote a book titled Your God Is Too Small.

I have long thought Phillips’ title to be the best book title I knew from the viewpoint of encapsulating the message of the book.

However, the title of a new book by Tom Gilson may best it. Too Good To Be False both intrigues and encapsulates.

Too Good To Be False is an unexpected twist on the common saying “too good to be true” that grabs your attention — at least it grabbed mine.

Moreover, I think Too Good To Be False is true!

The subtitle, How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality, identifies what is too good to be false. After reading the book and understanding Gilson’s argument, the title Too Good To Be False is an effective memory jog for both his reasoning and his conclusion. Remembering the title’s concise truth enables one to apply the argument in discussions with believers, inquirers, doubters, and even naysayers.

The choice Too Good To Be False for the title was a stroke of genius. It intrigues, reminds, and summarizes all in just five short words.

The Argument

The book focuses on illuminating the character, nature, and identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Gilson helps readers see Jesus through new eyes. Gilson says that Jesus’ character as a person sets Him apart as a man like no other man ever. For believers, this view of Jesus inspires renewed awe and worship. For others, it can remove doubts and confirm faith.

So what is the thrust of Gilson’s argument in Too Good To Be False? It’s an argument that used to be common but hasn’t been cogently presented in almost a century. It’s an argument based on the character of Jesus instead of on His words and deeds.

There’s more to the Gospel reports of Jesus, says Gilson, than just His teachings and miracles. Gilson expounds upon the character of Jesus from several perspectives — love, intellectual brilliance, authority, and leadership, among others. Referring to the Gospel accounts of Jesus, Gilson says,
“Indeed, it’s not an ordinary story in any way at all. You could even take the miracles out of it, and you’d still have a story absolutely unlike any other, for no other story has ever told of a person with character like Jesus.” (Gilson’s emphasis)

Gilson argues that Jesus’ character is unique in world history — it is too consistent, too well integrated, and too good to be false or contrived. He says, “No other hero — whether of history, myth, imagination, or legend — has loved as He loved, led the way He led, been a friend the way He was a friend, or understood Himself as Jesus understood Himself.”

Regarding Jesus’ leadership ability, Gilson says, “Anyone who founds a movement that grows and grows across thousands of years, reaching billions of people, has done something very, very right as a leader. . . . There’s no denying His leadership effectiveness. People followed Him gladly when He was alive. That’s a good start. Billions of people 2,000 years later still follow Him, which is a great deal more than a good start.” (Gilson’s emphasis)

Gilson makes these points about Jesus’ leadership and mission:

“Jesus founded a worldwide movement, built on His teachings but especially on His own person. That movement is still growing 2,000 years later. Everyone recognizes how unique that is; fewer notice the surprising fact that goes along with it: that He even tried. Who sets out to launch a movement that will reach ‘to the uttermost parts of the earth’? And who promises that He’ll be with that movement to the ends of the earth, or to the end of time? We’re so used to Jesus, we can easily miss seeing what an outrageously massive mission He came to accomplish.”

“Yet Jesus never doubted it would succeed. In Matthew 24:14 He assured His followers, ‘This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ He knew what he’d come to do, and He knew it would be accomplished.”

“No religious leader ever had such a vision; not until Jesus set the pace. And what a pace He set! His focus was absolute. He had no purpose on earth but to preach and demonstrate the Kingdom, and to provide us the means to enter it, through His death and resurrection. He never swerved to right or left. He stayed with it to the end. His singleness of purpose, in pursuing such a far-reaching vision, is surely unique in the history of human leadership.”

“How did Jesus know this unprecedented strategy of His would pay off so well and last so long? We don’t often ask this. Looking backward from where we are, we know the answer: He knew because He was God in the flesh, fulfilling a plan that had been put in place before the foundations of the world.”

Gilson argues that what Jesus did not do and did not say lends credence to the Gospel accounts. For example, Jesus never used His immense power for His own benefit. Even when confronting a horrible, undeserved death, He did not use it to save Himself, even though He could have done so.
For as Jesus was being arrested, He told His disciples,
Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?“(Matthew 26:53-54)
A legion numbered 6,000, so Jesus could have called over 72,000 angels to His aid. I think that would have been enough to deliver him. Yet He did not exercise this power on His own behalf.

For another example, Jesus was once terribly hungry after 40 days without food. Yet He did not turn stones to bread to feed Himself. But when thousands of others were hungry after only about a day without food, Jesus created bread and fish, as much as they wanted. (Luke 4:1-4; John 6:1-13)

Gilson says that no other person throughout all of human history, or even in imaginative literature, exhibits both Jesus’ tremendous power and simultaneously His complete selflessness, as He never used His power to benefit Himself.

Jesus never left a conversation or debate saying, “I wish I had said …” He never asked for advice. Jesus never said He had faith in God, despite frequently encouraging others to have faith. Why? These omissions only makes sense if He was God.

Jesus didn’t do or say what you might normally expect from a great religious leader. He was different.

“No other hero — whether of history, myth,
imagination, or legend — has loved as He loved,
led the way He led, been a friend the way
He was a friend, or understood Himself
as Jesus understood Himself.”

—Tom Gilson in Too Good To Be False

Gilson’s approach reminded me of some arguments by the literary giant G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936). His fictional detective Father Brown used similar reasoning in solving ”The Strange Crime of John Boulnois.” To explain part of his analysis, Father Brown said,
“I attach a good deal of importance to vague ideas. All those things that aren’t evidence are what convinced me. I think a moral impossibility the biggest of all impossibilities.”
(From The Wisdom of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton, Chapter 11)

In the same way that Father Brown deduces the truth about a murder based on what didn’t happen and based on the moral impossibility for a suspect, Gilson argues that what Jesus didn’t do and didn’t say support His identity as God. Moreover, Gilson argues that Jesus’ character shows the impossibility of Him being contrived. He must have really existed and been who He claimed to be, God incarnate.

The main point that Gilson makes is simply that Jesus is too good to be false — He could not have been made up. No legend or myth can explain the perfection of His character. “To invent Jesus would have required genius beyond genius,” writes Gilson. He says, “There’s really just one good explanation for Jesus’ character: no one made Him up. No one could have. The stories must be true accounts of the real life lived by the most extraordinary person ever.” (Gilson’s emphasis)

Gilson’s book is a refreshing new view of the most influential person of history. Illustrative anecdotes and humor help make his points throughout the book. Several of the 15 chapters focus on answering skeptics’ challenges to Jesus’ claims. Gilson convincingly rebuts the claim that the Gospel accounts are simply legends. At the end of the book is a study guide with discussion questions for each chapter which could be very useful in leading/guiding/generating group discussions.

The book is not expensive (only $14) and it’s not long (200 pages). It is well worth the money and the time to read it, and even to reread it. I devoured it with gusto. It is an awe-inspiring, worship-inspiring elucidation of Jesus of Nazareth. I highly recommend it for all readers, high school age and up.

Question Mark Cufflinks

Questions to Ponder

1. What is your favorite book arguing for the truth of Jesus’ divinity?
2. What do you think is the best argument for who Jesus was — miracles, teaching, character, or something else? Why? How would you express the argument?
3. What is your favorite example of Jesus’ intellectual brilliance? How does this support a claim to deity?
4. Why were listeners amazed, even astonished, at Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:28-29)? How does this support a claim to deity?
5. Where would you go in the Gospels to show that Jesus claimed to be God?
6. Throughout 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus presented himself alive to His followers by many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3). What does this indicate about the relationship between faith and evidence?
7. Which is more arrogant: To claim Jesus is the only way to God or to deny Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God (John 14:6)?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday August 19, 2020 A.D.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

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  1. Sounds like a book I’d like to have!


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