Pray for Peter Jennings—He’s Searching

By: Jerry Newcombe; ©2000
The ABC special The Search for Jesus stirred strong feelings among Christians who watched it. Jerry Newcombe thinks the Christian community should pray for the host, Peter Jennings.


Pray for Peter Jennings—He’s Searching

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jerry Newcombe is the author of many books including Coming Again, and co-author with D. James Kennedy of the best-selling, What if Jesus had Never Been Born? and The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail. The Kennedy-Newcombe book, The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail, deals with the Jesus Seminar and other anti-Christian attacks of our time. You can visit Jerry at Jerry Newcombe. The views presented in this critique are his own.

On June 26, 2000, ABC-TV presented a special documentary on Jesus Christ that was needlessly skeptical. The program was very well done. The production values were superb. It was well shot and well edited. I liked the music as well.

However, the program was flawed in a major way. There was a heavy reliance on overly skeptical Bible critics. About 70% of the time on the program was given to experts who were of a radical, anti-biblical bent.

If the radical views of those guests were known, they might not appear as credible as they seem in the program. For example, John Dominic Crossan appears on the program as much as any guest. He looks good and sounds believable, but Peter Jennings never bothers to identify him as a non-believer in the resurrection of Christ (which, according to 1 Cor. 15:3-4, would make Crossan a non-believer in Jesus). Crossan denies such essential Christian doc­trines as the virgin birth and His resurrection. Instead, he believes it’s likely that the body of the Lord was eaten by dogs—even though there’s not a shred of evidence for that historically. Crossan is so liberal that in 1995, Bill Buckley, when introducing a debate on the resurrection, quipped that “if during the course of this debate you see Dominic Crossan disappear in a puff of smoke, you will know that Jesus has just cleared His throat.”

Unfortunately, Peter Jennings relied too heavily on scholars like Crossan.

This is a shame because there was a lot of good in the program. It was very informative. The photography was terrific. The program might even end up with a good effect by causing people to search the Scriptures for themselves. On the other hand, I could see it damaging people’s faith who don’t have access to the excellent scholarship that is out there.

Too often there was an overly skeptical spin on the issue. After awhile, if Jennings intoned in a voice-over that “the Gospels say…,” it was a tip-off that “it ain’t necessarily so.”

The special presentation on ABC-TV seems to cast doubt on the veracity of the Gos­pels in general. After a while, you began to feel that the only trustworthy events of the Gospels are those recorded in all four of them. If all four Gospels said the same thing, then why not just have one Gospel?

The special cast doubt on several particular points:

  • Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem? Not necessarily, according to this show.
  • The program implied the Gospels weren’t written by eyewitnesses. Excuse me? Mat­thew and John were eyewitnesses. It’s widely held that Mark’s gospel was written with the direct input of eyewitness Peter. And Luke tells us that he painstakingly went back and interviewed the key players to provide us with a historically accurate account of the events that changed the world.
  • The special gave you the impression that Christ’s temptation in the desert in which the devil appeared to Him was mere delusion caused by His 40 days’ fast.
  • His healings were basically psychosomatic. Tell that to Lazarus whose corpse rotted in his tomb for four days before Christ raised him up.
  • Jesus perhaps intended to be more of a political savior than the Savior from our sins. His death thus caused His mission to fail. This is utter bilge. Christ Himself said, “My king­dom is not of this world.”

At least four of the guests (including Crossan) were members of the radical Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar, you will recall, is a very controversial group of some 74 “scholars” which several years ago sat in judgment on the authenticity of the words of Christ. They voted anonymously on the words of Jesus in the Gospels and concluded that Jesus only said 18% of what He actually said. For instance, they claim that of the Lord’s Prayer, the only thing authentic from the lips of Jesus was the opening, “Our Father.” Dr. D. James Kennedy points out: “Material in the Gospels where manuscripts differ in spelling or in words deals with maybe 1 or 2 percent of the text; the New Testament documents are very reliable. Instead, what the Jesus Seminar has done is to get rid of 82 percent of the text! Textually, they stand on quicksand.”

While there are liberal Bible scholars who deny some or many tenets of the faith, there are just as many—if not more—scholars who hold to a much more conservative position. You wouldn’t necessarily know that from this special.

Peter Jennings’ program didn’t deal with the “findings” of the Jesus Seminar, nor did he indicate how radical and out-of-mainstream were the scholars upon which he seemed to rely the most. However, to his credit, there were many sound-bites from N. T. Wright, who is a conservative Bible scholar. At least, he believes Jesus rose from the dead bodily, which is the most critical, watershed doctrine. Those who don’t believe Christ walked out of the tomb, again according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, are not Christians…despite the number of theological degrees they may have after their name.

My friend, Mike Licona, who wrote Cross-Examined (a book that proves the resur­rection of Christ without touching the New Testament), counted the number of times on the show that skeptics vs. believers appear. The four men from the Jesus Seminar were on-camera 38 times (Borg 10, Crossan 17, Funk 4, Meyer 7), while the only evangelical scholar, N.T. Wright, was cited 11. This was about a 6:1 ratio of liberal: evangelical schol­ars cited—54:11 comments.

Despite all of the above, there were some faith-affirming moments in Peter Jennings’ special. He highlighted a Christian tour group that came to Israel all the way from Alexan­dria, Louisiana. Those provided for nice moments in the video.

The resurrection of Christ was mentioned. The controversy was there, but at least the orthodox Christian perspective was affirmed by N. T. Wright. If Dr. Wright hadn’t been in this program, it would be a hopelessly flawed anti-Christian hack job.

Thankfully, the evangelical world is filled with excellent books and commentaries on tough Bible questions. Skeptics are welcome. Jesus is not only the Way and the Life, He is the Truth.

The program downplayed the deity of Christ, yet at the same time it recognized His incredible impact on humanity. The question of the ages is still the question of the ages: “Who do you say that I am?”

I believe, despite the skeptical tone of the special, that Peter Jennings is searching for the truth, but he would do better to seek it among those who have found the truth, not those who choose to reject it.

Pray for Mr. Jennings. If I had any message for him, it would be the one from the lips of Christ (despite what the Jesus Seminar may say): “Seek and ye shall find.”

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