Any day now, we can expect the first salvos in the “war on Christmas.” It may come in an interview with Muslim author Reza Aslan, whose recent book on Jesus, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” has sparked some controversy.
It might be a news magazine cover, as when Newsweek asked last year, “What do we really know about Jesus?”
But those are less than skirmishes — they’re sideshows.
The real war on Christmas takes place in our own hearts.
And on this “Black Friday” of consumerism, we would do well to remember that “keeping Christmas” is a personal duty, not a public policy question.
Aslan’s book generated controversy because he takes a skeptical academic’s view of Jesus — and that’s certainly nothing new. Like most academics, he accepts little that the Bible has to say on its own merits.
That’s the attitude taken by Newsweek last year. Writer Bart D. Ehrman took exception to many parts of the Christmas story.
“Nowhere does the Bible indicate what year Jesus came into the world, or that he was born on Dec. 25; it does not place an ox and an ass in his manger; it does not say that it was three (as opposed to 7 or 12) wise men who visited him,” Ehrman wrote.
That’s all true, of course. Many of those “facts” are simply traditions. But what’s wrong with that?
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead,” British journalist G.K. Chesterton wrote a century ago. “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
What academics really object to is the lack of “extra-biblical” confirmation — independent historical accounts that match up with the Gospels. (Yet they do exist; the Jewish historian Josephus, for example, wrote about Jesus.)
Ehrman concludes by saying Christians simply need to stop taking the Bible so literally.
“These are books that meant to declare religious truths, not historical facts,” he said.
He’s missing the point entirely. Going back to Chesterton, that great thinker once pointed out that the very foundation of our justice system — the way we determine facts when a defendant’s very life is on the line — is on the word of 12 regular people. At the conclusion of a trial, a judge will ask the jurors, one by one, if they have rendered a verdict they believe is true and factual.
Why, then, would we doubt the testimony of the 12 apostles?
Facts are important. As Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary pointed out in a response to Eherman, “Christianity stands or falls on the truth concerning Jesus, and thus it also stands or falls on the authority and truthfulness of the Bible.”
What’s even more important, in this advent season, is to remember the “war on Christmas” is taking place largely in our own lives — between the earthly and the heavenly.
That’s the war we should be fighting, even as we fight the crowds on Black Friday.