Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shoddy Argumentation Continued: Seeking a Common Starting Point

In my previous post I argued that followers of Jesus have done a poor job of communicating their perspective on issues in the public square. At the end I submitted that Jesus was our common starting point as we articulate our worldview in the public square. The historicity of the life of Jesus is widely acknowledged by scholars. There are detailed accounts of his life written by either his companions or those that extensively interviewed his companions in the Bible. In addition, there are other non-Christian accounts from the time period that attest to Jesus' life. Any responsible historian would acknowledge that there was a man named Jesus.

People from a diverse array of worldviews readily acknowledge respect for Jesus and even quote from him regularly. Unfortunately, however, most people's knowledge of Jesus is limited to some nifty out-of-context quote or perhaps a story or two. These little quips are often used to justify whatever people want to justify, Christians and non-Christians alike. Statements like "judge not lest you be judged," "blessed are the peacemakers," or "the kingdom of God is within you." When taken in isolation, these statements are used as a buttress for any viewpoint.

We are further shaken when we go to a bookstore and see row after row of books about Jesus that try to persuade the reader that Jesus' message was not what Christians say it is. The Jesus Seminar has assembled so-called historians from around the country and reduced Jesus' life and teachings to a few spiritually ambiguous adages. They have written lots of books with provocative titles and appear on PBS documentaries sounding authoritative. The reality is that their project of discovering the real historical Jesus has been academically irresponsible and a farce. Liberal and conservative scholars alike have discredited the Jesus Seminar and their proliferation of propaganda as bad history. Publishers publish their books and bookstores stock them because trashy tabloids sell. If you are looking for some worthwhile books that refute The Jesus Seminar, John Shelby Spong and others here are a few great ones:

The authors listed above come from various backgrounds and are respected as scholars.

Once we feel comfortable with the historicity of Jesus and the accounts of his life and teachings found in the Bible, we then must resolve to decide what we want to do with those facts. N.T. Wright makes a very compelling case for the veracity of Jesus' resurrection. As I read the historical record, the resurrection of Jesus is an act so significant that it shapes how I think and feel. It gives significance to his life and teachings. This significance is magnified by the invitation by Jesus to join in his death and resurrection. Our views and ethics ought to be primarily informed by this. We need to be so familiar with Jesus life and teachings that we can articulate our responses to the issues of today. When so many around the world consider Jesus to be a wise teacher, prophet, or mystic, then it only makes sense for them to hear more about Jesus. But not in the way we are used to talking about Jesus, which usually involves very little of Jesus' story and a lot of culturally-distant religious terminology. We need introduce people to the incredible teachings, stories and events and then maybe some of those oft-used quotes above might find grander meaning and the world might see transformation.


ThaiTopher said...

Are you saying that Jesus should be the starting point with people who are not believers? I would definitely imagine that Jesus should be a starting point with believers, I am just wondering if it is the best place to start with nonbelievers. I am not saying it isn't, simply thinking aloud. What about people that say that religion should have no part of the political arena and starting the conversation with Jesus simply puts elements into the political arena that don't need to be there?
When it comes to dealing with other believers, I would imagine that many would not be satisfied to simply start with Jesus. There are many believers I know of that would just as easily consider the works of Paul and other apostles just as influential. What should our response be to them?

M Crane said...

Thanks for dropping by the blog Thaitopher. Your questions are good ones. I think I tried to bite off more than I could chew in one post about a broad and complex topic. As clarification I am suggesting that the life of Jesus is widely accepted by most.

I think many of the issues that society is struggling with are grounded people's respective worldviews. Whether it is abortion, gay marriage, war, or response to poverty, we draw from our actual worldviews for our answers. In a sense, I am challenging Jesus-followers to base their views on these issues on Jesus life, teachings, and invitation into his new life. In this challenge are two components. 1) Are we as Christians actually basing our views on these issues on Christ? How many of those that feel strongly about any one of those issues can actually explain how their view is based in the Christian Scriptures? When the Christian community can explain their views on these difficult issues from the life of Jesus, I believe that will be able to communicate the point more clearly. 2) I then wanted to challenge the Christian community to adapt their approach to explaining their views on these issues. When we start with "The Bible says abortion is murder", we sound hostile and are hard-pressed to find a verse that says that. But if society has a respect for Jesus as a good man and wise teacher and then tell a story of Jesus' life where he demonstrates his value on lives that society had little concern for.

This response is getting out of hand, but I will say that Jesus-followers need to be vocal in the public square (which includes politics) but we must resist the temptation of the powerplay. The example of Jesus shows us to take the humble path.

ThaiTopher said...

I am interested in looking at the particulars. Let's suppose we are in a conversation with another believer regarding the context of war. So the thought is to start with the life of Jesus. Some would be inclined to give quotes from him such as "blessed are the peacemakers" but that just appears to make the same mistake as your post mentioned. How would we use the context of the life of Christ in explaining our particular viewpoint about war?