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April 19, 2006

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Derek

I have one fundamental disagreement here (well, okay, I have more than one as a literal sense reading of the Nicene Creed kinda guy but I'll stick with one... ;-))

Jesus can fairly accurately be said to have said all of the things that you bring up on historical-critical grounds. But--like most rationalist Historical Jesus investigators over the years--you've left out some other things that it seems quite clear that he taught. The majority of biblical scholars who study the Historical Jesus at the current point in time agree that Jesus used eschatological language. That is, he stated that a divinely ordered and initiated shake-up was imminent. Repent *for the kingdom of God is at hand*--not because it's a good idea, it'll be better for you psychologically, or because it'll make people like you more. The reason for repentence is not rational but eschatological.

They also agree he spoke in parables. While there's disagreement over particular parables, quite a number of the parables--even in Mark--have quite a bit of eschatological content.

So--if you're going to say that you hold to the religion of Jesus then you have to decide where you come down on his eschatology.

btw--have you read Schweitzer's *Quest for the Historical Jesus*? It's a classic text in the field and one well worth reading if you're into the topic.

D. C.

Derek, Jesus isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. As I noted in another comment, people can be spot-on about some things and utterly wrong about others. Lyndon Johnson arguably did more good in the area of civil rights than any president since Lincoln, but he also led the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. William Shockley shared the Nobel Prize in physics for his early work on the transistor, but he later espoused racial theories that, shall we say, don’t sit well with most people.

It seems reasonable to assume Jesus did hold to a certain eschatology. And perhaps he did think he was the Anointed One who would imminently return from heaven and usher in God’s reign.

On those assumptions, Jesus seems to have been wrong on both counts. But that doesn’t negate everything else about his life or teachings. It doesn't mean he was a lunatic, pace C.S. Lewis; it just means that, on those particular issues, he was mistaken. By the standards of his day, his views might have been "in the band" for sanity. (Although the Gospels suggest that his family might have had their doubts about that.)

Derek

The pertinent question, though, is how integral eschatology is to his worldview. I'd argue that it was foundational--inseperable from the rest of his teachings. The repentance issue in particular would serve as my Exhibit A.

I suppose my question would be, why does your worldview need Jesus? Deuteronomy effective reframes the Law the way that you are, downplaying to a degree the ceremonial law and placing a central importance on the heart's disposition towards God and neighbor. What extra bonus does Jesus give you that Deuteronomy doesn't?

D. C.

Derek writes: "I suppose my question would be, why does your worldview need Jesus? ... What extra bonus does Jesus give you that Deuteronomy doesn't?"

A valid question. The best I can do for an answer is this: In our tradition, Jesus is a fact on the ground. I'm not interested in switching to a different tradition. So, I try to make do with the tradition I'm in, in a way that I can reconcile with my professional training and experience.

D. C.

Derek writes:

The pertinent question, though, is how integral eschatology is to his worldview. I'd argue that it was foundational--inseperable from the rest of his teachings. The repentance issue in particular would serve as my Exhibit A.

Ptolemy's earth-centered worldview was flawed. But many of his resulting astronomical calculations were quite serviceable all the same (e.g., for navigation).

Jesus's insight about metanoia might likewise have resulted from a flawed worldview. That in itself wouldn't necessarily invalidate the insight. If his eschatology came tumbling down, it wouldn't automatically bring down the metanoia with it.

Derek

Alright--Jesus taught certain things like repentance and social justice. We like 'em and think they're good ideas. Jesus came to those notions not because they're good humanist notions to hold. Rather, his embracing of those on the marigins and of repentance is directly linked to his notion of a great reversal through God's action (the same one found in the Magnificat, btw, as well as the Sermon on the Mount/Plain). If you reject the apocalyptic eschatology that provides the conceptual framework of Jesus' thought and replace it with a liberal humanism you may indeed have several things in common. But is that to say that you are holding to the *religion of Jesus* and agrreing with his *basic approach to life* or do you hold several important notions in common though for different reasons?

D. C.

Derek writes:

But is that to say that you are holding to the *religion of Jesus* and agrreing with his *basic approach to life* or do you hold several important notions in common though for different reasons?

It's probably safer to say the latter. As to why I hold to some of his important notions, I was powerfully influenced by the book Non-Zero, by Robert Wright. It's a sophisticated, entertaining, and readable work about evolution, game theory, and social science. The author sticks to the facts, but concludes that the evolution of the human race is due in no small part to our capacity for love and reciprocal altruism. He also conjectures that the increasing orderliness in our corner of the universe (sometimes referred to as "the optimistic arrow of time") may point to the existence of a God and perhaps even a divine plan. Reading it was a milestone event in my faith journey.

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