Trent Horn’s new book explores the many ways Christ is falsely presented. He discusses these “counterfeit Christs” and why the real Christ is so much better.
Cy Kellett: Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host. Delighted to welcome Trent Horn, one of the lynchpins of the Catholic Answers Apologetics crew. Hello, Trent.
Trent Horn: Hello, Cy. I’m always trying to keep things together.
Cy Kellett: I don’t actually know what a lynchpin is. You know, sometimes you use a metaphor and you don’t know what that is. But glad to have you here Trent. You have a new book, which is shocking to everybody. It always is a surprise to us when a new book comes out. This book is called Counterfeit Christs: Finding the Real Jesus Among the Impostors. What gave you the idea?
Trent Horn: Well, I’ve been wanting to write a book on Jesus for a long time. Whenever people ask me, why do you write the books that you write? I usually ask myself two questions before I write them. One, is it a subject that I am interested in? And two, is it a subject that catholic apologists have not discussed, that have not treated in a comprehensive way? And so my other books, my Atheism book, my pro-life book, my book on the Bible, were all subjects I was interested and Catholic theologians, apologists, philosophers, had not written comprehensive lay treatments of the subjects for people.
Trent Horn: So I had originally wanted to do an academic book on Jesus, something a bit thicker covering all the different kinds of objections that people raise. But after a discussion with editorial staff, I thought it would benefit people to write something a bit more, at a popular level, that still covered a wide range of objections to the person of Christ.
Trent Horn: So just everything you get from atheists, non-religious, world religions, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, even some Protestant conceptions of Jesus. To have it in just one book, because I had written on this subject before in my 20 Answers booklet. So I wrote the booklet, 20 Answers: The Real Jesus. And so when people would call into the show and have questions, “Oh, how do I know Jesus is God? Or He rose from the dead?” I would say, “Oh, go see my booklet.” But I wanted something a bit thicker than that so I think Counterfeit Christs really does cover a lot of those goals.
Cy Kellett: And you’ve gotten really good, I think, since, maybe before, but certainly since Why We’re Catholic, at putting it in a way that is very accessible to the reader. I like the breakdown, the organization here, the counterfeits from the non-religious and then you give us some of those. The counterfeits from the atheists. Counterfeits from non-Christians, quasi-Christians-
Trent Horn: Is it “KWAH-zee?”
Cy Kellett: “KWAY-zee.”
Trent Horn: “KWAH-zee?”
Cy Kellett: “KWAY-zee.” They’re cwazy Cwistians.
Trent Horn: Cwazy Cwistians.
Cy Kellett: Counterfeits from ideologues and counterfeits from Protestants. I like them all, but I am a simple person Trent, and so I’m going by the pictures of Jesus on the cover.
Trent Horn: You judged a book … People do judge a book by its cover.
Cy Kellett: Completely judged the book by the cover.
Trent Horn: And people like it, they seem to enjoy it.
Cy Kellett: And what these are are iconic images of Christ. And then behind them is kind of an icon of a deception, really, of a counterfeit.
Trent Horn: Yeah, so I thought … When I first thought about writing a book on Jesus, I thought I’d just do the standard, “Here’s the evidence for His existence, here’s the evidence for His divinity, here’s the evidence for His resurrection,” and then answering the objections. But then I thought, well one way that would make it accessible is to show, “Okay, here’s all the false views people have about Jesus.”
Cy Kellett: Right, that’s what you’re good at Trent. You have these little insights. This is a great way to present this.
Trent Horn: Right, so here’s the ways people get it wrong, so it’s almost in reverse. Here’s the way they get it wrong and then in each chapter, there’s two to three lines of evidence to show why the counterfeit doesn’t work. People say, “Well Jesus is somebody who is a myth, lost to the sands of time, we can hardly know anything about.” “How can that be true if…” and then we know the Gospels have known authors, or we have manuscript evidence that they’ve been preserved and passed on today.
Trent Horn: And so for each one, I start, “Well, hey, here is either a story or a news article, something to talk about who this counterfeit is,” and then the two or three … and then so you as the reader, “Okay that’s a counterfeit, remember here’s two or three lines of evidence to show why, to expose the imposter.” To show yeah, this isn’t the real Jesus because this is what the Bible and tradition tell us who the real Jesus really is.
Cy Kellett: Well, okay. And it’s a little bit Thomistic. You address the complaint or the opposition first and then you go into the-
Trent Horn: “But I respond that…”
Cy Kellett: But it’s not Thomistic in the sense that it’s really hard to read Thomas Aquinas and this is not. I want to start with my least favorite Jesus of all these counterfeit Jesuses, if I may.
Trent Horn: Okay.
Cy Kellett: And I’m going to point to the picture of him and see if you can tell from the picture on the cover of your book, which one is my least favorite. I don’t like this counterfeit Jesus.
Trent Horn: Okay, so this is a counterfeit Jesus. Behind him is a $100 bill, so that was the Jesus people claim was once the Secretary of the Treasury.
Cy Kellett: That is not it. Have you read your own book?
Trent Horn: I have, but sometimes I don’t know what all the pictures mean.
Cy Kellett: Okay. I believe that that picture refers to prosperity preacher.
Trent Horn: Yes.
Cy Kellett: Money Jesus.
Trent Horn: Money Jesus.
Cy Kellett: This prosperity Gospel is so anti-Gospel and it is just a false Gospel and it’s so mean. I don’t like it.
Trent Horn: Why do you say it’s mean?
Cy Kellett: Because it leaves people thinking that the reason they don’t have money or that something befell them in their life, is that they don’t have the right kind of faith to speak the word into the universe or out-
Trent Horn: Yeah, it is a very harsh thing to say that … At first it sounds wonderful. Someone will preach to you and say, “God loves you.” I agree with that.
Cy Kellett: Okay, amen.
Trent Horn: “And so if God loves you, He will provide for you and He will give you the things you need, you will not be wanting. And so if you have faith in Him, He will make sure that your faith is rewarded and…” these preachers will take when Jesus says, “Your cup will runneth over. A measure will be turned out and given back to you. What you’ve given, it will be given back to you even more.” You know, John 14:14, “Ask of me whatever you want and I will give it to you.”
Trent Horn: Okay, well then if you have faith then you’ll have these things because God loves you and he’ll give you these things, just have faith. But you’re right, then the harsh thing comes for many, many people who ask and don’t get these material rewards that they want, “What happened?” And so these prosperity preachers will blame the victim and say, “Well you just didn’t really have enough faith.” Which of course to me is a callous way to explain why Christians in sub-Saharan Africa struggle with poverty. They don’t have enough faith, but you watching your TV at home, sending in your seed faith money do? Now, they’ll make these all kinds of excuses.
Cy Kellett: But the end product is broken people. People who don’t trust God, don’t trust other people.
Trent Horn: Right. And they don’t realize that when Jesus is talking about “Ask and it will be given to you, your cup will be turned over and you’ll be given even more,” He’s talking about spiritual gifts in these passages. He’s talking about how you’ll be given gifts of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts to be able to share with others. Not necessarily material things. Jesus said not to worry about material things, that birds have nests and flowers are robed in ways even more splendid than Solomon, not that we should not care.
Trent Horn: Some Atheists will read that and say, “Well, Jesus is saying ‘Be irresponsible.'” Well no, Jesus in another passage says, “Count the costs of a tower before you build it.” And, “Build your house on rock, not on sand.” So there’s two extremes. There’s the person who doesn’t trust … both of them come from not really trusting God. Either you think God will take care of everything for you so you don’t have to worry, or you have to do it all yourself.
Trent Horn: But for me, in that chapter, the biggest objection I levy against the prosperity preachers is to say, “Okay, so if you’re full of faith, God will reward you and you’ll be rich, you won’t have problems, why wasn’t Jesus rich?” Because there, you can’t say he doesn’t have faith.
Cy Kellett: I wish I had a record scratch. Yeah, because it doesn’t fit. It’s not the real Jesus. Oh, it’s like a counterfeit. I get it now.
Trent Horn: Right.
Cy Kellett: I get it.
Trent Horn: There you go. But that’s the thing, because that way, they can’t use the excuse saying, “Well you don’t have faith and so that’s why God hasn’t blessed you.” You say, “Well, Jesus certainly had faith in His Father, right? So why didn’t God bless Him?” So what I cover in the book are the different ways that some prosperity preachers try to say that Jesus was rich or that he was wealthy.
Trent Horn: And when you read the Bible, it does amaze me what some people will take from the Bible when they approach it with their own assumptions. But to read through there, when you see how often Jesus condemns the rich of his time, how Jesus did not have property of his own. That Jesus said, “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” even. That he was a wandering, itinerant preacher. To take from that that he was somehow wealthy goes far beyond what the text itself says.
Cy Kellett: So that’s my least favorite of your counterfeit Jesus. I want to tell you my … I can’t decide which is my favorite. It’s between two.
Trent Horn: You have a favorite one?
Cy Kellett: Favorite counterfeit Jesus. It’s either non-judgmental buddy Jesus and I realize these are counterfeit Jesus, I’m not preferring them to the actual Jesus, I’m just telling you the two that I … I just can’t stand the prosperity one … or Rabbi Yeshua.
Trent Horn: Yeshua.
Cy Kellett: Yeshua.
Trent Horn: Yes.
Cy Kellett: Yeah. One of those two. Which one do you want to talk about? Rabbi or buddy Jesus?
Trent Horn: Why don’t we talk about our buddy, then if we have time we can talk about Rabbi Yeshua.
Cy Kellett: I mean, because in a certain way, because he is a rabbi.
Trent Horn: He is. Rabbi. They would call Him rabboni. Rabboni in Aramaic, which means “my master,” “one who has mastered the Torah,” a rabbi.
Cy Kellett: A super rabbi, right?
Trent Horn: Was Jesus a super rabbi?
Cy Kellett: All right, let’s just go to non-judgmental buddy.
Trent Horn: Because see, even if you didn’t get it right about being a rabbi, Jesus will not judge you for that. Because he doesn’t judge you for anything. He’s your friend. He’s your buddy.
Cy Kellett: Okay. That’s non-judgmental buddy Jesus.
Trent Horn: Yeah, sure.
Cy Kellett: Yeah. So, there’s things that are very frustrating about this non-judgmental buddy Jesus, mostly is he doesn’t care about injustice. That’s what bothers me. But tell us about non-judgmental buddy Jesus.
Trent Horn: It’s easily the most common counterfeit Christ. This is someone … In fact, living here in San Diego, my wife and I, we drive by a Planned Parenthood on the way to the Zoo, it’s right off of Interstate 8 and they have a giant banner with a woman, like a nurse or a nurse practitioner smiling and the slogan is something to the effect of “All care, no judgment”. It’s just amazing. It’s like, I don’t know any other medical practice that has to say that. It’s not like if I go to my ear, nose and throat doctor, it’s just like, “Ear, nose and throat specialist. We don’t judge people.”
Cy Kellett: Wait, what? Why would you?
Trent Horn: Why would you? Except well, maybe…
Cy Kellett: There’s something wrong.
Trent Horn: Maybe there’s something within Planned Parenthood that is deserving of judgment. Actions that are intrinsically evil, for example. So with Jesus, it’s this idea that if he loves and cares for you, the modern view of Jesus that he is a nice man and what made Jesus revolutionary was a preaching about love, tolerance, altruism, and that people say Jesus was a friend to sinners. People will say, “Well, Jesus was a friend to sinners.” What that means to the modern mind is that Jesus never judged sinners or told them they were sinners, but that he just accepted them for who they were, would spend time with them, would help them, would heal them. And so that’s the idea that Jesus is a “friend to sinners” in that respect.
Trent Horn: But that is not what the Gospel authors portray. The scandal of Jesus being a friend to sinners in the Bible was not that he refused to judge them, it was actually that he chose to engage them in the first place. Because a lot of people today will say, “You should be like Jesus. You should just leave people alone if they do this or that you disagree with. Just accept that.” And what they’re asking is, they’re really asking for us not to be like Jesus but to be like the Pharisees.
Trent Horn: You think about the Pharisees, Sadducees, there was the man who was beaten on the side of the road that the good Samaritan helped, they ignored him because you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you don’t want to defile ritual impurity laws. “I don’t want to be anywhere near these Gentiles. I don’t want to be anywhere near them in their sinful way.” It’s not like they went out there and said, “You sinners, you need to knock this off.” “I will stay over here, I’m going to say my prayers, I’m going to go to Jerusalem to pray. I’m going to celebrate Passover. We are part of the chosen people, they are the ones who are not chosen. And that is to their detriment.”
Trent Horn: So what made Jesus revolutionary, why he’s a friend to sinners was that he went after them. He went to them and he spoke about them in ways that the Pharisees were scandalized, like, “Why are you with these people? Why are you taking what Yahweh, our God, has given us, and you’re giving it to these people who are so unworthy?” And Jesus said, “We’re all unworthy.” But His point was, he said to them, “A doctor doesn’t go to the healed, my Pharisaical friend.” He didn’t say that the Pharisees were in the wrong for worshiping, they’re worshiping God, in many cases, correctly. What he said to them in Mark 2, he said, “A physician goes to heal the sick, not the well.” So it was here that he went forth.
Trent Horn: And other people who say Jesus was not judgmental, I challenge them, I want you to sit down and read the Bible. Read just the gospel of Matthew, in fact I’ll send you to a shortcut. Read Matthew 23. If you’re going to tell me Jesus was just a … People will say to me, “Jesus would never say something harsh like that.” Well, read Matthew 23. Jesus calls the Pharisees, he calls them “whitewashed tombs.” They look nice on the outside but rotting, decaying on the inside. A “brood of vipers.” He bemoans other people. He calls them out for sinful or hypocritical behavior, whoever it may be. But then he calls them to repentance from that.
Trent Horn: Like when he saves the woman who was caught in adultery, he makes it very clear that he’s giving her a chance to mend her ways. He saved her from death so that she can be saved from eternal death. That’s why he makes it clear that, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” You’re fine, go and sin no more though. Show true repentance.
Cy Kellett: Let me just ask you real quick then, why is real Jesus better than non-judgmental buddy Jesus?
Trent Horn: Well, real Jesus is better because he’s able to cure us of the things that we judge in ourselves and others. See, when a lot of people say, “Jesus wouldn’t judge people.” The first place they’re going to run to is Matthew 7:1, when Jesus says, “Judge not lest you be judged.” It’s like, “Oh, Jesus said ‘Stop judging people.'” No, he’s saying “Stop hypocritically judging people.” “Judge not lest you be judged, for the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
Trent Horn: So the point here, what Jesus is saying is, “Look, you judge other people.” He says, “Don’t pick the splinter out of your brother’s eye when there’s a beam in your eye.” But then he goes on to say, “Take the beam out of your eye, then take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” Not, “Oh, just don’t worry about it.” Point is, clean up your own house first before you tell your neighbor he’s got a dirty house. So not engaging in hypocritical judgment.
Trent Horn: But later on in the Gospel of John, Jesus also says, “I have not come to judge the world, I come to save it.” That his judgment is not like a legalistic, cold judge behind a bench sentencing us to life imprisonment, or something like that. It’s more the judgment a doctor, hence a physician in Mark 2, Jesus makes that reference to Him being a physician, that Jesus is a physician who makes a diagnosis. “This is the problem you have and this is the medicine you need to fix it.”
Trent Horn: And think about when a lot of people go to the doctor, the doctor gives them a judgment of their health and they either listen to the doctor’s judgment or not, and it’s to their benefit or their peril. And so that’s why the real Jesus is better here, that you might want someone to say, “Well, I’m not going to judge you.” Imagine if you had a terrible illness that you were wasting away from, and I could pick … I read random articles on the internet all the time, I was just reading one today about delusional parasitosis.
Cy Kellett: Oh, I hate that.
Trent Horn: Right?
Cy Kellett: Yes.
Trent Horn: Why do you hate it?
Cy Kellett: Well, I don’t like delusions or parasites.
Trent Horn: And this one is both.
Cy Kellett: Or tosis.
Trent Horn: It is the belief, it is the mistaken false belief you have bugs crawling under your skin.
Cy Kellett: Oh, come on now, this is going to get stuck in my head. I’m going to have a hard time sleeping tonight.
Trent Horn: Or is it going to be stuck under your skin?
Cy Kellett: Why did you mention it? Okay, so your point is?
Trent Horn: So imagine if … A real friend to you would not say, “You know what? If you’re going to act, always picking at yourself and worried at about these bugs,” It’s not like he’s going to say, “You know, if that’s what you think you need, hey, that’s totally fine. I’m here to support you. Whatever you need. You need to do things, get rid of these bugs you think are there, man, I’m here to support you. I’m not going judge what you do.” That’s not a friend. He’s letting you hurt yourself under a mistaken, false self-injurious belief.
Trent Horn: A real friend will say, “I believe you have a mental disorder. There are not bugs under your skin. You falsely think they are and what you are doing to try to address this is hurting yourself, and as a friend, I don’t want you to hurt yourself. So I want you to get help.” Even if you don’t believe … “How dare you say I have a mental disorder?” “I’m sorry, that’s what it is and I have to tell you this so that you can get healthy again.”
Cy Kellett: Right. And non-judgmental buddy Jesus is just like, “Hey man, it’s cool, whatever. Whatever.”
Trent Horn: I love you who you are. But the problem is-
Cy Kellett: You don’t have bugs under your skin.
Trent Horn: Well, no, the problem is, if God loves us who we are, He always loves us, He loves us so much He doesn’t want us to blindly and ignorantly walk away from Him for all eternity. Imagine if Jesus was like, “Hey, you don’t want to spend eternity with me? That’s cool man, no worries.” No. The scriptures talk about how, once again, He’s a friend of sinners because He goes after that one lost sheep. He goes after sinners. He comes to us in our brokenness and our weakness and then yeah, when we choose to repent, He doesn’t use it as a time to just berate us. Sometimes you have those relationships where you apologize or something and the person takes the opportunity to want to berate you.
Cy Kellett: Yeah, that’s called marriage. Oh sorry, that was just a joke. Was that funny Nick?
Trent Horn: “No comment.”
Cy Kellett: Go ahead.
Trent Horn: But that’s what we do with spouses, with friends, and we have a gleeful “I told you so” moment. And that’s purely out of spite to make ourselves feel better at another person’s expense. And so we equate judgment with this kind of spiteful self-righteousness. But that’s not what judgment is; judgment is an act of the rational mind to discern whether something is good or bad, good or evil, right or wrong, and what action should be taken in response to that. And so when we fall under judgment, yeah, it can be hard, but that’s the only way to know where we have to change our lives, where we have to repent to turn away from sin and then turn towards God and cling to Him.
Cy Kellett: Counterfeit Christs is the brand-new book from Trent Horn, our guest. The subtitle, Finding the Real Jesus Among the Imposters. It’s from Catholic Answers Press, you will not be surprised to learn. Would you continue this conversation with me next week? Because I have a few more questions I want to, well I have a bunch more that I want to get to.
Trent Horn: I would be happy to.
Cy Kellett: All right. Thank you so much for joining us today on Catholic Answers Focus. We’re delighted when you do. And if you like Catholic Answers Focus, maybe you could tell your friends about it and maybe even head them over to a little website called CatholicAnswersLive.com where they can put in their email address, become a free member of Radio Club and we’ll send them free stuff including alerts when there’s a new Focus out. I am Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.