[Rough Draft]

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

5.06.2004

an open letter to a friend

the following relates to an article in slate way back on 9 april, which prompted an email exchange w/ a fellow blogger on the hope of ever finding the historical jesus (assuming one exists, of course). w/ his permission, i'm posting part of the letter for your consideration:

i actually think we're a lot closer than it might seem. in fact, most of the people who are weighing in on this and other issues aren't as separated as we may seem @ first glance. this is sort of a "family argument," i suppose. but i remain convinced, perhaps naively, that the search for the historical jesus is not "only a step removed from sheer speculation" @ best. i agree that the jesus of history is almost impossible to apprehend completely, just b/c of the nature of history, the way the debate has become complicated due to questions of "inerrancy" or "infallibility" or what have you, etc. and the gospels do present a complex portrait of a complex man. still, there's enough of the historical jesus available for the humble searcher to find and embrace as savior.

when i concede that the gospels were written to serve particular agendas -- that they were "theological" documents, not mere history texts -- i am not conceding that they have no historical validity whatsoever or that we cannot piece together enough of a picture of the "historical" jesus to find out who he really was (is) and how that should affect our lives today. in other words, there's a "semantic field," so to speak, and jesus is inside those boundaries. if we disagree that jesus was enacting a prophetic parable when cleansing the temple, that's one thing; if we deny the mystery of the two natures of christ, then that's quite another (the dreaded "h" word).

i do appreciate the efforts of barth, et al., to salvage something when everything seemed to be slipping away in the wake of the first quest, but i contend (w/ n. t.. wright, as you point out) that the "risen christ" is one and the same w/ the "historical jesus." i can't quite agree w/ your assertion that "what his true motives were, whether he believed himself to be the son of god and god himself, whether he considered himself the messiah . . . lose some urgency when viewed through the lens of christianity, b/c christianity has attributeed these aspects to him whether he would have agreed or not." jesus' understanding of his mission or messianic identity aside, if we are worshipping a god-man who was, in actuality, just a failed messianic pretender w/ dreams of grandeur who died for his hubris, then that makes all the difference in the world. while you contend that christianity's "underlying spirituality, sense of community, and sense of connectedness w/ god" are what have allowed our faith to "blossom from an obscure jewish cult into one of the most significant religious movements in the history of mankind," i contend that the blossoming of christianity (in spite of how the church has mischaracterized jesus and twisted his message toward evil ends @ times, mind you) is due to a single, simple but earthshaking fact: it's all true.

how else are we to account for the martyrdoms in the wake of jesus' exit from the earthly scene? it's hard to believe anyone would willingly die for the sake of a myth (in the "crap-we-just-made-up" sense). i certainly wouldn't. and i'm afraid i can't dedicate my life to the priesthood, or make any other commitments for that matter, w/o the jesus of history to hang my hat on.

i'm glad you ended your comments w/ a reference to the "stumbling block" you describe as jesus being "in there somewhere" but "not knowing exactly where." it's just that i think the jesus of history is the stumbling block. that jesus stands ever ready as the scandalon, the living stumbling block, bringing many to their knees in recognition of his messiah-hood (-ship? -dom?), but bringing others, perhaps many, many more, to their knees only @ the last. and i fear that all too often our pride refuses to accept that jesus was who he (and the church) said he was; we refuse to stumble. i confess i don't know what the afterlife will be like -- i like to think it's akin to lewis' description in the great divorce where we get umpteen chances to see the truth and only the truly hardened or proud or twisted souls ever finally miss it (him). but one way or the other, we'll stumble.

thanks for the time and thought you put into correction. it's a great weblog, and i, for one, am richer for having read it every time i visit.

christ's peace,
~ sammy

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