[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball

4.11.2004

anyone seen the historical jesus?

now that i've slept through easter mass and all, i feel much better about coming back to the original aim of this blog, which was to write about god and doubt (and the red sox, of course). from the content of my recent posts, you, dear reader, might come to the mistaken conclusion that i know what the hell i'm talking about. well, i don't. not all the time @ least. and i think that trying live as an "integrous" (thanks to my friend robin saylor for that "word" that's not a word but should be) christian life necessarily entails confronting the doubt that lies w/in the hearts of the large majority of believers, perhaps excluding true saints (who would probably admit to much doubting if pressed) or the more fundamentalist christians who cling, white-knuckled, to an inerrant corpus of scripture and stick their fingers in their ears and scream "la-la-la-la-la!" whenever doubt monkeys rear their ugly heads during prayer or "quiet times."

{note to self: (1) write something soon defending the term "fundamentalist" b/c it's not necessarily a bad word, some self-professing fundamentalists aside; (2) never, ever use the term "quiet time" in a post again . . . it borders on the inane. find another flippin' term for it!}

what got me to thinking about this was a post on my friend seth's weblog, mr. otis, where he quoted a portion of a piece he read on correction. the portion of the post seth quoted reads, in part: "So what's going on here? Did Jesus really say those things or did Matthew just make them up? The answer is that you're asking the wrong question. This is an evangelical narrative, not a history. There is nothing to attack, nothing to defend. What Jesus actually said or did not say is unknowable. It never occurred to anyone to write down an unbiased history of the life of Jesus, as we know such things. The evangelist equates evangelical narrative with biography. They are, to him, one and the same thing where Jesus is concerned. And so John is justified in referring to his Gospel as a true account of events, witnessed by one who saw them. To John, the religious sentiment and the dictates of faith are every bit as valid a perception as what is seen with the eyes and heard with the ears, if not moreso . . . . I think sometimes that intellectual and liberal Christians are looking for an excuse to read the Gospels as fiction. I say, go for it. The way that we approach our fiction is much closer to what I believe the Gospel writers intended than the way we approach our history. Don't think of them as historical narratives at all. Think of them as poems written to describe something utterly beyond the power of the artist to describe. Think of them as love poems. Think of them as historical novels expressing a social and religious conviction that extends so far beyond the mundane facts of experience as to render them nearly meaningless." (by the way, thanks to matt for writing such a though-provoking piece and putting it out there for us all to read and comment)

i went to correction, a weblog i've pointed out in these pages before, and read the whole piece. you should check it out, whether you agree w/ it or not. i left a little comment, which i quote here b/c i'm tired and can't think straight enough to pen a cogent response right now: "i'm a recovering fundamentalist and practicing episcopalian, and i think you should give n. t. wright a second look. while far too many western, modernistic christians argue tooth and nail for inerrancy and historicity of all scripture, i think we err if we completely eschew the christ of history (who did, in fact, exist) and slide into some sort of neo-orthodoxy and embrace a 'christ of faith . . . .' there are theologians (or historians, as wright would label himself) who do still look for the christ of history and believe that to be the chief end of their lives (academically, if not devotionally)."

i'm referring in that comment to wright's who was jesus, a short but fairly comprehensive and very accessible look @ the quests for the historical jesus. wright points out the flaws in the quests' methodology, but he comes down firmly in the camp of those of us who believe that it's absolutely essential to keep looking for jesus in history, not just "in our hearts" or ______ (insert preferred mystical or neo-orthodox phrase here). i guess what i want to say this easter evening is that seth is asking the right questions. matt is thinking and writing well. but, ultimately, i can't come to their conclusions w/o jettisoning too much reason (such as i have, mind you) for comfort. something about matt's conclusions rings too post-modern-y in my ears and smacks of the enlightenment project's progeny of decontextualism and "scripture study as literary criticism." no, we should not (repeat, not) read the bible as a history book. its authors didn't mean to write that way (as far as i know), and the bible doesn't hold up well under those constraints. but practically equating scripture and love poems, historical novels or simple fiction can't be the answer. tonight, i can't tell you what the answer is, and i may never be able to do so to the satisfaction of matt, seth or anyone else out there (i hold out hope that my wife, who reluctantly reads my blog now and again out of obligation or pity -- she's so sweet -- can go along w/ me on this), but if you want to know where i think i'm headed, read wright's book b/c i'm fairly sure that his conclusion is in the neighborhood of mine own once i can stumble into one. no doubt i would have written wright's book myself given enough time (an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters, you know), it's just that wright got there first b/c he's infinitely smarter and a better writer than me. until next time, i'll leave you w/ the exhortation i gave matt (and seth): keep reading, keep thinking and keep asking questions. but don't stop believeing that there are, in fact, answers.

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