Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke is writing as a historian who wants Theophilus to have certainty concerning his faith. Many have heard of Christ indirectly or unclearly from a long distance. Luke is giving us a detailed historical account.
This is not a once upon a time fairy tale. It does not take place long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. At the time Luke was writing, it was maybe thirty years from the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was using material he had researched and compiled for years before that. We are confronted with a story that takes place in known places involving people that could still report as eyewitnesses.
Given all of that, one interesting thing is that as we begin to read, there is no shortage of supernatural activity. The very first chapter of Luke records two supernatural births, of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ – who was in fact born of a virgin. These are amazing stories that deserve a careful retelling.
As we go through this Gospel together, let’s be open to the facts as Luke has received them. He is simply reporting what others have seen and heard. He is taking them at their word and we should likewise take Luke at his word.
This is a Gospel that gained respect and popularity from the earliest days of the church. If we want to be certain concerning the things we have been taught about Jesus, Luke’s Gospel is a great place to start.
“History is a nightmare, generally speaking,and the effect of religion, where its authority has been claimed, has been horrific as well as benign. Even in saying this, however, we are judging history in terms religion has supplied. The proof of this is that, in the twentieth century, “scientific” policies of extermination, undertaken in the case of Stalin to purge society of parasitic or degenerate or recalcitrant elements, and in the case of Hitler to purge it of the weak or defective or, racially speaking, marginally human, have taken horror to new extremes. Their scale and relentlessness have been owed to the disarming of moral response by theories authorized by the word “science,” which, quite inappropriately, has been used as if it meant “truth.” Surely it is fair to say that science is to the “science,” that inspired exterminations as Christianity is to the “Christianity” that inspired Crusades. In both cases the human genius for finding pretexts seized upon the most prestigious institution of the culture and appropriated a great part of its language and resources and legitimacy. In the case of religion, the best and worst of it have been discredited together. In the case of science, neither has been discredited. The failure in both instances to distinguish best from worst means that both science and religion are effetively lost to us in terms of disciplining or enlarging our thinking.
“These are not the worst consequences, however. The modern fable is that science has exposed religion as a delusion and more or less supplanted it. But science cannot serve in the place of religion because it cannot generate an ethics or a morality. It can give us no reason to prefer a child to a dog, or to choose honorable poverty over fraudulent wealth. It can give us no grounds for preferring what is excellent to what is sensationalistic. And this is more or less where we are now.”
– Marilynne Robinson, “Darwinism” in The Death of Adam:
Essays on Modern Thought (New York, Picador, 1998, 2005), 70-71