- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

The search for the historical Jesus has turned into a mild war of television specials.
After Peter Jennings' "The Search for Jesus" transfixed nearly 17 million viewers of ABC in June, a major Christian ministry has produced the counter-film "Who Is This Jesus" for release beginning tonight.
The two-hour ABC film interviewed liberal scholars of the Jesus Seminar, who have said Jesus was a political dissident or faith healer who was exaggerated as divine by biblical authors.
The new one-hour film casts doubt on the Jesus Seminar and asks orthodox biblical scholars to explain why Gospel stories about Jesus born in a manger, crucified and raised from the dead may be historically accurate.
"The ABC special gave the impression that no scholar believed these things," said Coral Ridge Ministries film producer Jerry Newcombe, who praised the quality of the Jennings report. "We want to show that there are a lot of credible scholars who hold to foundational Christian beliefs."
The TV debate reflects one that already has arisen in publishing and the news media, which gave extensive coverage to the Jesus Seminar in the early 1990s.
The seminar's members met and voted on which parts of the four Gospels were historically accurate and concluded that only 18 percent of Jesus' words recorded in the New Testament were truly spoken by Him.
Princeton Theological Seminary biblical scholar Bruce Metzger, who appears in the new film, said the Jesus Seminar reflects a particular philosophical stance to critical Bible studies.
"Some of them start with a 'criticism of suspicion,' rather than a neutral approach," Mr. Metzger said in an interview.
Such "suspicious" Bible criticism presumes that the Gospels' authors inflated their claims in order to influence readers, said Mr. Metzger, editor of the New Revised Standard Bible.
The new film is hosted by actor Dean Jones and features the Rev. D. James Kennedy, a Presbyterian minister who heads Coral Ridge Church and its ministries.
"When the press needs a quote about Christ, they will often call on the members of the so-called Jesus Seminar," he says in the film.
The film's narration begins by asking, "How can the lay person make sense of all the divergence of opinion among scholars?"
In an on-screen interview, Mr. Kennedy says the documentary will present evidence as it would be presented before a jury in a trial.
But he added that liberal biblical scholars "assume the supernatural is impossible" and so interpret the historical Jesus as only a wise man or political rebel killed by the Romans.
Scholars who accept the supernatural, he said, find plenty of historical evidence for Jesus' Messianic claims, miracles and prophesies fulfilled in his Bethlehem birth and death on the cross.
After seeing the ABC special, Mr. Kennedy "was very upset because it interviewed only one moderately conservative scholar," Mr. Newcombe said.
The Coral Ridge Ministry, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was equipped to produce a rapid alternative version since it has produced nearly 50 films many on debates about the Bible since the early 1980s.
"It took a lot out of us to make this Christmas deadline," Mr. Newcombe said.
Most of the project's $2 million budget has gone to buying prime-time slots, mostly on CBS affiliates, in the largest TV markets for tomorrow. The ministry claims it has the potential to reach 110 million viewers.
Tonight, the film airs nationwide on the PAX-TV network. It can be seen locally at 8 p.m. on Channels 60 and 66 in Washington. Thursday night, it airs at 8 p.m. on WJLA-TV, an ABC affiliate.
" 'The Search for Jesus' was one of our most successful ABC specials of the year," said ABC News spokesman Todd Polkes. "There was an incredible response."
Mr. Jennings took a news reporter's approach, going on the scene in Israel and opening in Bethlehem with the scholarly debate on whether Jesus was born there or in Nazareth.
"We are very aware of our limitations," Mr. Jennings said. "We can't tell you whether or not Jesus was the son of God. That is a matter of faith."
He said the program sought to "be respectful of what people believe," but finally was in search of physical evidence of the human Jesus. "We found a real person," he said. Mr. Jennings concluded that it was "miraculous" that Jesus' vision transformed the world.
Mr. Jones, the host in "Who Is This Jesus," invites viewers to "travel through the claims and counterclaims of this man Jesus" and meet scholars who are "both skeptics and believers."
Despite some noted skeptics on camera, the film interviews develop the argument that the Gospels are remarkably accurate for their antiquity, in which they are written with eyewitness accounts soon after Jesus' death and are verified by non-biblical sources.
The film concludes with the host asking Mr. Kennedy to "personalize" the documentary findings.
The closing Christian testimony, Mr. Newcombe agreed, tips the film more toward being an evangelistic message than a secular news documentary.
"I discovered He came to die for me," Mr. Kennedy said of Jesus, whom he described as "not only human," but "divine."

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