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 Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by Luke Timothy Johnson
- Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Darrell L. Bock
- The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) by N. T. Wright
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.