Jesus of the Gospels—Fact or Fiction?
At first, he declined the invitation, knowing the amount of preparation it would require, but then he reluctantly agreed. Now, Dr. Peter Williamson says, “I am so glad I accepted and hope for similar opportunities in the future.”
Dr. Williamson holds the Cardinal Maida Chair in Sacred Scripture and is an experienced Catholic evangelist. What he accepted was an invitation to debate Dr. David Skrbina, chair of the philosophy department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The topic: “Is Jesus (Issa) a Fiction?”
The campus Christian student group Ratio Christi invited Williamson to debate after a group member felt that Skrbina was calling into question Jesus’ divinity, and even Jesus’ existence, in his classroom teachings. The student asked Skrbina if he would be open to defending his beliefs publically and the professor agreed.
The debate was held on the Dearborn campus on January 30, hosted by Ratio Christi and the university’s Philosophy Club and Secular Student Alliance. Skrbina argued from the perspective of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed that Christianity is “the one great curse . . . the one immortal blemish on the human race,” and that St. Paul is “a hate-obsessed false-coiner” who corrupted the Roman Empire by spreading a “Judeo-Christian slave morality.” Williamson ably defended the divinity of Jesus and the historical reliability of the New Testament. He received the crowd’s most enthusiastic applause when at one point he answered Skrbina’s reasoning with the quiet reply, “This position is simply madness.”
Says Dr. Williamson, “What helped me to participate was something I read by C.S. Lewis, ‘It’s not our job to win the argument but to bear witness.’ I pray that the Holy Spirit bring fruit from the sowing of the word of God at the debate and through the videos.” Although their interchange was intense at times, Williamson and Skrbina along with their wives met a few weeks later for “a very cordial” lunch, thereby proving out the Christian maxim: “In doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” The opponents agreed to meet again to “continue the discussion” in another public debate. “It’s important that Catholics dialogue with unbelievers and learn how they look at the world,” Williamson says. “And I’m glad to have made a personal connection, too.”