Scot McKnight is right to insist that the Gospels rather than scholars' speculations are where we encounter Jesus. I myself recently argued in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels that the Gospel writers' portrait of Jesus makes much better historical sense than scholars' historical reconstructions do.
But, while I agree wholeheartedly with Scot's main point, I want to make a case for why historical Jesus studies remain valuable.
Is Jesus Research Dead?
I believe Scot underestimates the continued interest in historical Jesus research and, therefore, the importance of engaging it. While the historical Jesus group may have declined at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings, publishers and the media continue to address the topic. Likewise, scholars continue to publish and hold international symposiums on historical Jesus topics (e.g., the 2007 Princeton-Prague Symposium). Quests for the historical Jesus come and go, but no sooner are postmortems pronounced for one than another quest in a new form seems to rise. The persistence is inevitable so long as public interest in Jesus remains and current historical approaches survive.
As long as the historical questions are being asked, then, it is important for the Tom Wrights, Ben Witheringtons, and the many other believing scholars engaged in the discussion to articulate their perspective. While historical methods do not answer theological questions or compel faith, I can testify that in my much younger days as an unchurched atheist, they would have invited me to consider it.
Used rightly, these methods can be friends rather than foes of faith. The academy's ground rules are limited, not always fair, and themselves open to challenge. Some methods, such as the double dissimilarity ...