Today, Matt Nelson interviews Catholic apologist and author Trent Horn about his new book, Counterfeit Christs: Finding the Real Jesus Among the Imposters.
Congratulations on the release of your new book Counterfeit Christs! Give us a little primer on what it’s about.
The book defends the Church’s traditional understanding of Jesus by juxtaposing it against the many false understandings of Christ that exist in our world. I systematically go through eighteen “counterfeit Christs” ranging from the “nonjudgmental buddy” of the nonreligious, to the “pagan copycat” found in many atheistic works, as well as the mistaken views of Jesus found in Islam, Mormonism, and even some Protestant sects. Throughout the book I show how these imposters can be exposed when we use sound biblical exegesis and thorough historical research.
Why do you think there is so much confusion today about who Jesus was (and is)?
For the same reason there was confusion about who Jesus was in the first century: some people love their idea of who they want Jesus to be more than who Jesus really is. During his earthly ministry, some people desired the traditional conquering Davidic messiah so much that they shoehorned Jesus into that role and could not understand his claims to divinity. Many people do the same thing today with their own ideologies and beliefs because they want Jesus’ “seal of approval” over ideas they presume to be true and so they twist Scripture and history to support what they already believe.
What part of the research process for your book was most interesting for you personally? Did you learn anything new?
I really enjoyed doing more research on how Jesus is misunderstood in other world religions like Islam and Judaism as well as in Eastern philosophies. One of the fruits of this research included marshaling evidence from these critics that support what we believe about Jesus—for example, the writings of the Jewish author Pinchas Lapides, who accepts Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, or Muslim apologists who insist (contrary to many lay Muslims) that Jesus’ crucifixion is an historical fact (albeit one they must reinterpret in order to save their view that Jesus wasn’t crucified).
What makes your book different from other “Jesus books”?
What makes this book different from other “Jesus books” is that it doesn’t focus exclusively on one aspect of Jesus that is misunderstood, like his divinity or his resurrection from the dead. Instead, it provides a readable introduction to a wide variety of mistaken views people have about Jesus of Nazareth. This makes it the perfect book to help a layperson begin their understanding of how to articulate a sound defense of our Lord.
Tell us about the genesis of Counterfeit Christs. Why did you choose to write a book on this topic, and why now?
Whenever I write a book I always ask myself if I’m interested in the subject and if other Catholics have sufficiently addressed the topic. The best defense of the traditional Jesus from a Catholic perspective in recent years is Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus, and I cite some of Brant’s research in my book. However, I was not aware of a book that comprehensively addresses a wide variety of mistaken views about Jesus that go beyond the subjects Brant covered in his book, like the reliability of the Gospels. These include claims that “the real Jesus” endorsed socialism, homosexual behavior, salvation by faith alone, adherence to the Mosaic law, and a whole host of other errors. I’m glad this book is available to help people understand why these views of Jesus are incorrect and also help them come to know the real Jesus.
Counterfeit Christs is your eighth book since 2013! Even if you were a monk living in extreme solitude and doing nothing but writing books, that would be a heck of an accomplishment—but you’re married, the father of two, and a staff apologist for Catholic Answers! How do you remain so productive?
Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and so I am grateful for the grace God has given me to remain productive through the writing process. Of course, we also believe grace perfects nature, and so there are some practical habits I follow to help me write so many books.
I make sure that I have clear outlines for exactly what I want to write. For a lot of people, the challenge of writing comes from staring at a laptop’s blinking cursor and wondering “What now?” But since I know the general direction I want to go in each book, I can start writing immediately, but I don’t start at page one. Instead, I write as “the spirit moves me,” and take a more interesting chapter first in order to build momentum on future chapters. I often jump between sections in a chapter, or even between chapters, if I have an unexpected moment of inspiration.
I also take stock of the gifts and challenges God has given me and use them to my advantage. For example, the Lord blessed me with a decent long-term memory, so I can recall facts and quotes from books and articles I’ve read a long time ago, which helps cut down on the time it takes to do research. However, I have an unreliable short-term memory, which can make writing difficult, so when I get an idea for something to include in a book I immediately write it down. These end up in a “palette” of possible ideas and short bursts of text that might make it into the book. Sometimes if a section isn’t working in a chapter it goes to the palette, only to end up in another part of the book. This is better than trying to juggle ideas for the book’s structure in my mind when my mental bandwidth needs to be saved for the book’s content.
Finally, I stay productive by not writing all the time. I give my brain time to recharge and take frequent breaks to go on a walk or go to the arcade and shoot zombies (yes, an arcade—I am a child of the nineties, you know). By doing that my mind resets and is better able to overcome “writer’s block.”
Wow, looks like we’ll have to do another interview just on this one question because there’s so much I could share. I hope this is at least helpful!