Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Faith Is Better Than "Jesus"

Via Sullivan: In Christianity Today (which, like most religious publications, has a natural interest in Christianity yesterday), New Testament scholar Scott Knight discusses the "historical Jesus" researches, of which we were tired five minutes after first hearing about them.

It's a nice essay, and says what canonical readers -- meaning virtually all Christians through virtually all of our history -- have taken for granted, which is that we can't know much about Jesus apart from the Bible, and that therefore what the Bible says about Jesus is what we know about him, more or less in its entirety.

Knight suggests that, as more and more people -- including scholars who, like himself, have been actively involved in the supposed "quest" -- recognize this, the field has gradually shrunk, and is now virtually moribund. This may be an overstatement, but we certainly hope not.

Here are the two points that we especially like:

[The "historical Jesus"] scholars by and large believe in the Jesus they reconstruct. During what's called the "first quest" for the historical Jesus, in the early 20th century, Albert Schweitzer understood Jesus as an apocalyptic Jesus. In the latest quest, Sanders's Jesus is an eschatological prophet; Crossan's Jesus is a Mediterranean peasant cynic full of wit and critical of the Establishment; Borg's Jesus is a mystical genius; Wright's Jesus is an end-of-the-exile messianic prophet who believed he was God returning to Zion. We could go on, but we have made our point: Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was really like and orient their faith around that reconstruction. [Emphasis original.]

This excellent point observation, unfortunately for Knight's case, into the usual taunt, that the theologians of whom one disapproves are not "orthodox," an extremely tricky word to use, especially if one is a Protestant. He then asks a question which, while impolitic, is one that many of us have probably asked at one time or another:

One has to wonder if the driving force behind much historical Jesus scholarship is more an a priori disbelief in orthodoxy than a historian's genuine (and disinterested) interest in what really happened. The theological conclusions of those who pursue the historical Jesus simply correlate too strongly with their own theological predilections to suggest otherwise.

For our money, though, the critical graph is the last one:

As a historian I think I can prove that Jesus died and that he thought his death was atoning. I think I can establish that the tomb was empty and that resurrection is the best explanation for the empty tomb. But one thing the historical method cannot prove is that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. At some point, historical methods run out of steam and energy. Historical Jesus studies cannot get us to the point where the Holy Spirit and the church can take us. I know that once I was blind and that I can now see. I know that historical methods did not give me sight. They can't. Faith cannot be completely based on what the historian can prove. The quest for the real Jesus, through long and painful paths, has proven that much.

1 comment:

Pastor Joelle said...

I really thought the quest for the historical Jesus went out with like Bultmann...but I see guys like Marcus Borg and Crosson and the like are doing some of the same thing - only they are just looking for the social justice Jesus. Who was it that said when we look down the well searching for the real Jesus we simply see our own reflection? Or something like that.