As CNN gears up to air the second installment of an investigative series about Jesus, one expert says this show can be a bridge between people of different beliefs.
David Gibson is the award-winning journalist who co-authored Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery., and co-creator of the cable television series based on the book.
We caught up with Gibson to talk about what drove him to write Finding Jesus, why he thinks John the Baptist (the subject of Sunday’s episode) is fascinating, and how he thinks this series can put Christians and non-Christians on common ground.
Crosswalk: Your bio says you converted to Catholicism. Was your conversion experience a factor in writing this book?
Gibson: I think so, in remote ways. Yes, in the sense that I have written about religion and Christianity for years. So it is an interest of mine, personally and professionally.
But also the topic of relics, as a Catholic, interests me. I came from an evangelical background that did not focus on things like that. But in the Catholic church there is an intense focus on sacred objects. So, exploring the tension between those two traditions was underlying motivator to all of this.
Crosswalk: Did you have any “aha” moments during the book writing process or during the production process for the series?
Gibson: There are a number of really interesting discoveries as a result of writing the book and making the series. There was an opportunity to look deeper into the claims that are made about the objects and about the associated characters.
Most importantly, these artifacts give us a broader window into the gospel story. There is always more for us to learn. Christian can always learn more about Jesus and about the gospel. And this is especially true for me, as someone who has studied and reported on these things for a long time.
Crosswalk: This Sunday’s episode of Finding Jesus will explore relics specifically associated with John the Baptist. What are some things about him that you find particularly fascinating?
Gibson: There is a lot to learn about John the Baptist. He is believed by many to be Jesus’ cousin, and so much about him can help illuminate the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.
It is also widely known to have baptized Jesus. But baptism is an outward sign of the remission of sins, and Jesus was sinless. So why did he have to do that?
John the Baptist was the first martyr—in an indirect way. He was killed for stating the truth—that Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law was immoral and wrong. Ultimately he was killed for preaching the truth. And since God is Truth, he could be considered a martyr.
One more thing: the way he died (he was beheaded) is tragically evocative of what we are seeing in the Middle East today.
Crosswalk: When it comes to this series overall, why will believers want to watch?
Gibson: They will want to watch because Jesus is a fascinating figure and there is a lot we don’t know about Him, historically. There is a lot to speculate about. And there is so much sensationalized speculation out there that makes people very suspicious and makes them worry that these discoveries will undermine their faith.
With this series, we take a second look at some of these sensationalistic claims and debunk the debunkers. That’s the real impetus for the show—to take a look at a lot of these claims to see what is true and what is not true about Jesus.
My advice to believers who watch the series is to let the knowledge deepen your faith, not make you skeptical. Christianity is about faith and reason. It’s always good to learn more using responsible scholarship and look at all the facts in the light of faith.
Why will nonbelievers want to watch?
Gibson: Nonbelievers are as fascinated by Jesus as believers if not more so. When these archaeological findings come to life, the people often clicking on or watching those stories are unchurched or atheist. Sometimes these discoveries are wielded by nonbelievers as a way to disprove or knock Christianity down a peg.
Anyone who believes in reason should be willing to let facts lead. If something that you are trumpeting as undermining Christianity turns out to be fake, then be willing to acknowledge that and figure out the truth about Jesus.
Crosswalk: Do you see any ways this series can unite people, regardless of belief, and start some meaningful conversations?
Gibson: There are many time gaps in the Bible that are unaccounted for, that many theorize about. We can all agree that we don’t really know what happened during those gaps, and that we can all learn more.
I also tend to see any artifact as a rare piece of common ground between believers and nonbelievers. This can prompt us all to look at history, look at science and dig deeper into what the gospels really say. Everyone is fascinated by Jesus.
*The next episode of Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery will air Sunday, Mar. 8 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.
Publication date: March 7, 2015