Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Freed Jesus

Which of the above depictions of Jesus do you think represents the authentic Jesus? Which one do you think is most consistent with the gospels of the New Testament? On what basis did you make your decision?

The quest for the authentic historical Jesus has been going on since the 18th century. The most (in)famous contemporary group that has engaged in this quest is the Jesus Seminar. The Seminar consists of more than 200 scholars who met regularly to discuss and determine what sayings of Jesus in the gospels were authentic and which represented the construction of the early church. They wanted to discern the historical Jesus from what came to be known as "the Jesus of faith". The scholars of the Jesus Seminar heard papers presented followed, at the end of the sessions, by an opportunity to vote on how authentic they believed certain sayings of Jesus are.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go and hear Dr Greg Jenks, a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, speak on the topic Behind and Beyond the Jesus Seminar: What It Does and Why It Matters. It was a very enlightening evening and it was great to hear about the work of the Jesus Seminar from one who actually participates in it.

Like many Christians, I don't accept all the claims made by the Jesus Seminar. But I want to share with you one thing that Greg Jenks said as part of his presentation that made a big impact on me. He said that, as a result of modern Jesus scholarship, 'Jesus has escaped Christianity.' He drew on the metaphor of end-user agreements that are used with software. For Jesus, he said, there is 'no end-user agreement that limits Jesus to Christianity'. Jesus is not "owned" by any particular group of people. But often Christians have acted as though Christ belongs to them. And within the splintered denominations of Christianity different "Christ's" have been constructed as the only true Christ.

According to Jenkins, Jesus has broken out of the bounds of Christianity and is being adopted by other religious traditions — Islamic, Buddhist, and so on. All this begs the question: how much have we tried to put Jesus into boxes of our own making? Have we made Jesus in our image? Do we think that God can only bring Jesus to the world through us? And how will we respond to other faith traditions coopting Jesus?

Jesus reigns and he will not be confined. When he died, he died for the whole world (1 John 2:2). Is the Jesus we worship a Jesus who is for all people? Or do we expect others to conform to who we think Jesus is? Maybe we need to learn about Jesus afresh so that we can see him as he wants us to see him.

Technorati Tags: ,


  1. Thank´s for taking up the question about the Jesus Quest. Actually - in evangelical theology - we are talking about the Third Quest, that means there is up today new information about the picture of Jesus. Or, more true, we have to accept that this picture differs depending on context and is more than traditions. There is many good christians scolars that have reacted against the Jesus Seminair that we can get inspiration from. As progressiv adventists this is one of our biggest challanges - to lift up Jesus and his Kingdom.

    In my journey, lerning more about Jesus, I once happend to donate the book "The Jesus I never knew" by Philip Yancey to my local SDA church. It was rejected by the church liberian stating that the Jesus Yancey presents is not the Jesus adventism teach. This was a turningpoint for me. From that moment I knew there is a need for a new Jesus among Adventists - so once again - thank you for taking up the quest about the real Jesus.

  2. The nice hair and complection Jesus, the Roman Catholic Jesus, or the Rasta Jesus,... .

    Having only these three pictures to choose from maybe explains that thing about no graven images or likeness'.

    Dick Larsen

  3. Comment to ne: Your librarian was out of line. Having worked for 20 years at the GC in editorial work, Yancy's books were reviewed and read. We make a mistake in attributing to the church the eccentric behavior of individuals or local churches.

  4. Interesting. Where can I read more about how other religions are co-opting Jesus in their own traditions?

  5. Yes - ellamae - I agree about excentrical persons, but they make a big inpact on our context as adventist. And by using the church manual these persons can support their actions.

  6. There is an interesting book called 'Christ across the Ganges' edited by Sandy Bharat. You will pick up reviews on amazon. Another fascinating book is Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro's book 'The Jesus of Asian women'. Once again have a look at Amazon. Don't be put off by the emphasis on christology in the latter book - it is more a consideration of the taking on of beliefs into christianity from within their own asian cultural context.

    If we are ever going to make headway with the Muslim world we will have to have a closer look at Jesus as a prophet more than as a saviour who died for the sins of mankind. That is where the link lies with Islam. Luke is especially useful in that regard because of the many parables which illustrate the love and mercy of God. Sometimes we are inclined to 'come at' many of the parables from our evangelical background. I think it may be useful to imagine you were standing in the crowd listening to the story of the prodigal son back two thousand years ago. Today we can be a little too swayed by the christologies which have cluttered the Chrsitian church over the centuries. Nobody who was listening to Jesus at that time would have thought in the least that the forgiven younger son eventually found his place back in the family because of the sacrificial death of Jesus having made such forgiveness possible. At that time it was just God and men/women - with no Jesus as a mediator. Bystanders would simply have accepted that God is inideed forgiving and merciful quite aside from later interpretations - espceically the idea of ransom - that God's mercy had to be 'bought' by Jesus. Muslims would understand the parable to stand just as it is and just as the Jews of that time understood it; God is merciful and that is the end of the story - and Jesus was a prophet who lived to direct others back to God.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Jared. I noticed the conversation at Spectrum yesterday and you are correct... it does dovetail nicely. I think we are living in a world where labels are becoming increasingly problematic!