‘To read the Gospels in earnest is to come face to face with the living Son of God,” David Limbaugh writes in his new book, The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. He talks about the Gospels, his faith, and the encounter they invite.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why do you keep writing about Jesus? Heaven knows your name is associated with politics. You could probably sell your opinion on anything — and there’s a lot to talk about in politics, that’s for sure.
David Limbaugh: I am very passionate about politics, almost all of my columns are political, and my first five books were political, though my book Persecution touched on a number of faith-related issues. In fact, my first attempt at non-fiction many years ago was a Christian-themed book. It didn’t really get off the ground for many reasons but turning to faith-based books now is a fulfillment of a dream that I had long ago. I greatly enjoy studying the Bible and theology and am passionate about sharing what I’ve learned. So for the foreseeable future I intend to keep writing Christian books — and to keep opining on politics as well.
Lopez: Who are you to say who “The True Jesus” is?
Limbaugh: I am a bit amused by this question because I anticipated it. No, I do not claim to have unique insight into Jesus. I am just one of many believers who would tell you that the real Jesus who intervened in human history is not the fictional being often created by the popular culture, which wants to conform Him to it rather than the other way around. He was not some milquetoast hippie preaching tolerance for all ideas. He said, unequivocally and unapologetically, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus didn’t promise us health and prosperity if we just have enough faith in Him. To the contrary, he promised that His followers would encounter difficulties. We must take up our own cross and follow Him. He said, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus laid down the most exacting moral standard known to man in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. He is compassionate, loving, and forgiving, but He will not bring peace — until His Second Coming. Until then, we can expect continued turmoil in a fallen, broken world. Admittedly, Americans don’t ordinarily face the type of difficulties Christians do in some countries, but our ideas are nevertheless in disfavor in the culture, and becoming more so.
Lopez: Why is He so important to you?
Limbaugh: Because He is my Savior. He transforms the lives of those who believe in Him. He is the ultimate answer to the world’s brokenness — to human sin. He reconciles us to God and offers eternal life based on His finished work on the cross. It is a matter of His grace, not our own merit. If our redemption could have been accomplished in any other way, God wouldn’t have sent His son to endure what He did on our behalf — physical and spiritual suffering unimaginable to us.
Lopez: Do you ever hesitate to write about Jesus for fear people will think you are holding yourself up as His self-appointed spokesman? As “holier than thou,” as they say?
Limbaugh: No, but I am sensitive to that perception, as I had it before I became a believer. Christian scolds are a true turn-off and a deterrent to the Gospel. I want to be very clear: I am not claiming to be holier than anyone else — except that I hope I am holier than I was before I trusted Christ. In fact, having become a Christian is a humbling, convicting experience. I am acutely more aware of my own sinfulness now than I ever was before.
The Bible accurately describes the depravity of the human condition. Yes, we are empowered to overcome sin on a daily basis, but this side of eternity we’ll not even come close to being sinless. Anyone who thinks otherwise, in my opinion, needs to reevaluate. On the other hand, we must not use our awareness of our sinfulness to rationalize our rejection of the absolute moral standards Christ presented.
I want to be very clear: I am not claiming to be holier than anyone else — except that I hope I am holier than I was before I trusted Christ.
As Christians we must strive to be more Christ-like, but again, we do that not on our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. I have not appointed myself as a spokesman in the sense of claiming to have special knowledge or authority. My duty is to spread the good news and to accurately represent Scripture, which is the authority, so I am obedient in that regard.
Lopez: Why do you write that we must read “the New Testament — just as we read the Old Testament — with awe”?
Limbaugh: If you believe that the Bible is just a collection of moral stories, you would not likely read it with awe. But if you believe it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God — if you really believe that — how could you not read it with reverence and awe? The Gospels record that the crowds were continually amazed at Jesus’s teachings. The officers who went to arrest Him and came back empty-handed explained, “No one ever spoke like this man.”
I am amazed at Jesus’s words and deeds as revealed in the Bible and in awe of the entire Bible, because I believe it is God’s revelation to us. I also believe that if you read it with an open mind and a seeking heart, you will discover its glorious unity from beginning to end and come to the conclusion I have — that it is the Word of God.
Lopez: How does one “delve in not just with our eyes, but also our hearts, trained on Jesus Christ?”
Limbaugh: I believe that as we read the Bible we must be mindful of its Christ-centeredness throughout. If we train ourselves to read it with Christ in mind, we will gain a much clearer understanding because the entire book is about Him — from God’s first promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3:15 through the Book of Revelation. The Bible, from beginning to end, is God’s sovereign story of mankind — His creation, His fall and His redemption, through Jesus Christ.
Lopez: How can we go about being truer to Christ in our lives, not just on Sundays?
Limbaugh: I believe the best way to become more Christ-like is to practice the spiritual disciplines — prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc. The main disciplines, in my view, are prayer and Bible reading, which are complementary and both bring us into closer relationship with God. These should be daily activities, or at least more than once a week. The more we engage, the closer we’ll become and the more enriched we’ll be.
Lopez: Did you get to know Him better by writing this book?
Limbaugh: Yes, there is no question that I get to know Him better every time I read the Bible and even more so when I study it intensely, which I always do when I write a Christian-themed book. We must strive to know God not just intellectually, however, but experientially, and while studying leads directly to the former, it leads indirectly to the latter. That is, the more I learn about God, the more I want to experience Him, and this book, perhaps even more than my previous two, was helpful in that way.
It’s one thing to die for a cause you believe in, however sincerely, which may or may not be true. It’s another to die for something you know to be a lie.
It also didn’t hurt that immediately after sending the book to the printer and immediately before launching the book promotional tour, I had the blessing of visiting Israel for ten days, where I saw firsthand the land of the Old Testament and New Testament. It was an amazing experience, which added another dimension to my studies.
Lopez: You write: “Remember always that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual historical event, and it means everything for us. Because He lives, those who trust in Him will also be resurrected to eternal communion with the Lord.” Why do you believe this, which no doubt sounds like pious nonsense to many?
Limbaugh: I believe it because the Bible promises it and I believe, after thorough investigation of the evidence, that the Bible is the Word of God, which has come to us essentially in the form it was originally written. My conclusion is based on examining the evidence concerning the New Testament manuscripts, which are more voluminous and accurate, by far, than the manuscripts of any other ancient writings. Additionally, it was written by demonstrably reliable writers who were transformed from cowardly skeptics into bold advocates of the Gospel when they witnessed Jesus in His bodily resurrection.
People of other faiths and ideas have been willing to die for those ideas, but what distinguishes the disciples and apostles is that they weren’t basing their beliefs on good-faith, abstract ideas about a deity. Their ideas came from their actual historical encounters with Jesus Christ. It’s one thing to die for a cause you believe in, however sincerely, which may or may not be true. It’s another to die for something you know to be a lie.
Jesus’s followers based their faith on their personal encounters with Him in His entrance into history and His re-entrance in His bodily resurrection. If that didn’t occur they never would have subjected themselves to martyrdom and persecution — which they all did. All this “stuff” used to sound like “nonsense” to me, too — but not after I studied the evidence for myself. Studying the Bible emphatically reinforces these conclusions, as it is the best apologetic of all.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here.