So, I drank the kool aid.
One of the great joys of being at the Candler School of Theology has been the faculty that we as students get to engage with. Last semester it was people like Dr. Jacob Wright, Dr. Brent Strawn, Dr. Tom Long, and Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore.
This semester, I have had the privilege of being under the teaching of Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson. Most known for his deep critique of the most recent quest (Third Quest) for the historical Jesus, Johnson is a former Benedictine monk and very well respected scholar. His books include: The Real Jesus; Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity; The Writings of The New Testament: An Interpretation (to name a few).
(As an aside, and for those of you who maybe reading and wondering “quest for the historical Jesus?” In brief, this quest is an effort to reconstruct the life of Jesus of Nazareth using historical methods to reconstruct a biography of his life and times. It also pro ports to be able to say very specific things about how or why Jesus did things (even to the point of psychology) based on a very broad sweeping categories that the scholars impose upon his time period. Some of them work, other not so much. Google it if you need;))
Today, as a convinced student of LTJ, I’m officially letting go of my own quest for a historical Jesus. Below are two very brief examples of why this is a good thing.
1. In my own experience, and the experience of others through the centuries, the narratives about Jesus’ life and character have always be more powerful and transforming than any fixed historical reconstruction.
The thing about Christianity is this: it has never really derived its power from the facts. I am not Biblical literalist and neither do I think that if sections of the Bible were pure allegorical (and they are) would it change the reality that people have for centuries been moved to do great things because of it.
Neither does this mean that I think the facts which can be known don’t matter. History is important so long as it doesn’t become the cancer of myth. History has a great deal to tell us about historical figures, but it can never replace or capture the experience of a person, place, or idea in its original (and subjective) context.
2. As such, history is a limited way of knowing reality. While there may be things that history can tell us about Jesus (facts), it can never tell how people experienced Jesus or the resurrection (as an idea or a reality).
In this regard, Johnson’s experience-interpretation model actually makes more sense in the context of my postmodern epistemology by suggesting that there is more to being Christian in the world than certainty of faith, or surety of fact (maybe even Doubt?). Even more than that, the model says out loud that epistemology cannot be reduced to the knowable because there are different ways of knowing. Furthermore, this knowing is wonderfully empowered by the diversity of our interpretations of the narratives about Jesus not the universality of our best reconstruction of him as an historical figure.
As is such, even if a historical Jesus could be reconstructed, the implicit failure in the quest would be that if it succeeded, it would put Jesus on the biography shelf somewhere near Jessica Alba and Jesse Jackson. In my opinion, this says much more about the failure of history in the pursuit of Jesus than it does about the power of myth.
In conclusion, I want to make two things clear:
1. If it were not for my own personal engagement with the quest for the historical Jesus, namely Marcus Borg‘s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously without Taking it Literally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. In fact, if it weren’t for that book some 8+ years ago, I probably would have stopped reading the narratives about Jesus a long time ago. And be assured, if I am in conversation with someone who is in a similar place that I was in those days, I’ll recommend that book to them.
2. The Kool Aid is good, but I still have a few serious questions about other bits. For now though, the quest is over and the questing begins.
Much more will be said about all this in days to come, but I wanted to at least put these thoughts out there for the bantering. What say you oh friends and conversants?
Think. Read. Live.