Sunday, March 7, 2010

Short Version - With Pictures...

The Challenge of Jesus

N.T. Wright 1999

Chapter 1 – The Challenge of Studying Jesus

Where to start well why not with the word that Wright repeats – necessary. The whole chapter is Wright imploring and explaining why the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” is important not just to the historians but to Christianity as a whole.

How is it important? Well there was a guy called Martin Luther and he did some research on this translation which came up with “do penance” Martin's study realised that it was “repentance” big difference between these huh! Of course the changes that came from this and Luther's other work were somewhat extensive. Wright alludes to the possibilities for not just individuals but for Christianity as a whole when research takes place.

Yet in my experience such historical research usually brings results from people who are trying to refute Jesus existence or that he was less than the Son of God. Either that or it is extreme in the other direction that Jesus was some hologram projected by God not a human but a super-human.

Why do we have this split not just between believers and unbelievers but within Christianity itself?

Historically what has happened is detailed by Wright in his belief that asking the question “Who was Jesus and what did he accomplish?” is necessary, but the way in which it is asked is what results in the answers that we have read in shock or dismay. Wright points to the Enlightenment and specifically to Herman Samuel Reimarus who asked the question about Jesus to try and prove that Christianity is merely a mistake. It is from the Enlightenment that the current situation stems from, its separation of fact from faith by elevating human reason changed the playing field. Jesus was either a simple peasant cynic or a superman. This is a generalisation but it is the effect of the Enlightenment and its belief that the main event of human history was in the eighteenth century and not the events in the first concerning Jesus of Nazareth that were the main event (a rival eschatology - asserts Wright).

Because of the resulting answers coming from the question responses were either for or against and the effect of the enlightenment's split between fact and faith is seen in the divide between liberal and conservative. Despite all of this Wright says that the question asked by Reimarus and the Enlightenment is “necessary” and Wrights reasons are as follows.

God – To ask questions about Jesus and discuss him is to be discussing God. We learned last week in Ogden that any question about Jesus is a question about God as well as a question about who we are (the existential question)

Loyalty to Scripture – If we believe the bible then we should be making sure that we understand it in the context that it is set in. Imagine what people will make of LOL or ROTFLOL in two thousand years time.

Truth – We should not be afraid of the truth and what it actually is and the possible changes that can and will occur when you delve deeply into the question “Who is Jesus and what did he accomplish?” Did you watch compass last sunday night? It was disturbing hearing this message that I thought I was okay with that Jesus was (and is) a Jew. This exploration may freak us out but if we believe “The way, the Truth and the Life – it is Jesus” then why should we be afraid

Commitment to mission – We can answer the questions that will come to us from those who believe as well as those who are trying to find the evidence that it is all a sham. If we know the information and the history surrounding Jesus and the first century we can answer these people. There's that joke on the Vicar of Dibley “Have you read the new book of the bible, you know the Da Vinci Code.”

Wright finishes explaining the situation or state of play as he sees it of the quest. The quest came about from a question that was necessary but asked in the wrong fashion, since then there have been three main streams within the quest headed by Wrede, Schweitzer, and Kahler.

Wrede is the sceptic “we cannot know very much about Jesus, he certainly did not think of himself as the Messiah or the Son of God and the Gospels are basically theological fiction.”

Schweitzer – the middle of the road believing that Jesus being a First century Jew had similar understandings about the end times and how they would come about. Also that the Gospels got Jesus character right.

Kahler – Saw that the quest was just a way for historians to imagine up stuff about Jesus.

Wright places himself in the middle ground of course yet he continues to explaining that we cannot just discount the arguments that are put by those we consider to be wrong. That only in joining the quest and producing arguments that lead to theories that disprove them that we can correct them.

It is because of these reasons and the growth that can come from this quest that Wright is pushing it so hard. That this should never be considered a finished work, that the previous generation worked it all out before. Wright believes that every “generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus” I agree.

If you want to read my long version it can be found at my blog -

Tutorial Presentation - Long version

Tutorial Presentation

The Challenge of Jesus

N.T. Wright 1999

Chapter 1 – The Challenge of Studying Jesus

First and main issues is described with the Kenyan students and the German scholars loosing (?) Jesus

Wright uses the words “vitally necessary” to describe the historical quest for Jesus, not to say that the knowledge that of Jesus that is common within the history of the church is wrong or inaccurate. It is necessary so that we may be able to “get to know even better the one whom we claim to know and follow”

Despite this being “necessary and nonnegotiable” that this can bring out a deeper understanding of the Jesus who we follow there are dangers.

There are extremes who are for this quest and against it. There are those who by asking the questions of “Who Jesus is and what did he accomplish?” that seek to expose Christianity as a big misunderstanding. The unfortunate result of this is that Christians have often looked at such historical study and only seen the extremes. Jesus was a New Age guru or a Peasant cynic. Of course you can go to the other extreme and see those who see Jesus as a “First Century Super man” which is just as destructive.

Of course both extremes view each other with a level of disdain considering their view much more superior. These extremes are not what Wright is on about, where Wright sees this quest should be is somewhere in between this divide between fact and faith. That we can search for Jesus and find him historically in a way that will compliment our understanding.

So from the negatives Wright then talks about the positives giving the reasons for this quest.

“that we are made for God: for God's glory, to worship God and reflect His likeness.” In discussing Jesus we are also discussing God. Whatever we can learn about Jesus will give us an understanding about God. As we learned from Ogden last week the question “Who is Jesus?” also asks “Who is God?” as well as “Who am I?”

Loyalty to scripture we should learn as much as we can about the situation in the first century so we are able to understand the context of what is said in scripture. (Imagine what debates historians will have in 200 years time wondering what LOL ROTFLOL and meh are?) If there is anything that can aid in a closer understanding of the things we take right now as traditions and whether they are biblical or not will aid us. It aided Martin Luther.

Truth. What the gospel truly means in its original setting. That understanding the meanings even more deeply effects how you see the truth of the gospel. We believe that is the truth about Jesus who said as we learned from Ogden last week “The way, the truth, the life, I am it.” Thats just one piece that we only recently learned and that was an eye opener for me. What more could we learn.

The final one rolls back into the intellectual conflict with historians trying to prove that Christianity is a mistake. Knowing the truth of the history of the first century we will be able to explain when the next Da Vinci Code comes out. What do you do when you get the Vicar of Dibley joke – Have you read the new book of the bible? Yeah you know, the Da Vinci code.”

Christianity has to be rooted in the first century happenings of Jesus in Palestine then its all hooey. The sceptics should be answered and in answering this by examining the history of our beliefs which once interpreted correctly (Christmas anyone?) will bring “depths of meaning within them that we had never imagined”

Earlier I looked a bit forward into this chapter and mentioned the divide between fact and faith, this is explained by Wright as happening within a time known as the Enlightenment. I like to call it the En-darkenment cause a lot of the issues in and around Christianity today stem from this period of thinking. Wright describes this as the Enlightenment “asking a question in a misleading fashion”. Because of the results of asking the “Who was Jesus and what did he accomplish?” in the Enlightenment's way resulted in things like the Jefferson Bible and that Jesus was only a liberal speaker ahead of his time and so on. This freaked out the Christian establishment and developed a bit of a suspicion of the intellectual community.

Wright goes into detail describing this history (while apologising that he is not an eighteenth century historian) in which the Enlightenment started asking questions of the Christian dogma which had been static for sometime not continuing in the historical quest that could have offered a defence. So when Herman Samuel Reimarus came about with his Christianity is based on mistake it caused heaps of trouble. It is here that the necessary's come back from Wright, beginning that Reimarus's question was necessary to shake the “bland dogma” and it was not the first time that it was needed. Perhaps it is needed again now. So when the historians come up with facts that you do not agree with about Jesus perhaps we need to go and find out about it ourselves.

In what I see as decisive point to the issues detailed earlier in the challenge of and historical search for Jesus, Wright explains that it was the Enlightenment that split fact and faith. This split exists today on liberal and conservative boundaries. Yet the Enlightenment offers more than a way to think but a rival Eschatology to Christianity. They thought the light or reason and logic in human thought in Western Europe and America in the Eighteenth century. What came before was dark compared to the light of this new Enlightenment. You cannot use this thinking to explain Christology because if the Enlightenment the big moment then what happened in Palestine in the first century was not. So Jesus was brought down to being either good moral teacher or a superman not what he is, the Son of God who come into the world to be a man to live and die and rise again.

Now comes the resurgence of the quest which begins with Albert Schweitzer who pointed to the first century Jewish context of the world in which Jesus lived. It was the study of Schweitzer about the historical Jesus and the first century context in which he lived that convinces Wright that such study should continue and if it does there will be more understanding.

Despite such a search into fresh understanding of the contexts within the bible as Wright implores coming up with fresh and new ways to address the questions of the historical Jesus, there are negatives this way. Because of the history of the christianity and its errors on the conservative and modernist side there are errors in the other way. Seeing Jesus as a demigod untouched by human problems and secret ways to escape this world or this reality. This secret knowledge or Gnosis can be a result of a search for Jesus which takes things further away from the truth in the other direction.

Is there anything new to say about Jesus? Wright suggests yes and no. Jesus did announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God but “What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?” I'd like to ask what did Jesus mean by “fishers of men” was this a colloquial saying? We can ask these questions now and expect to find information because there are so many new sources to use. The Dead Sea Scrolls and a lot of historical information on the Pharisees and the Roman agendas of the time. We know a lot now. There is so much that more can be discovered about the time when Jesus was on the planet and if we believe that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh then what we learn should go into understanding the Gospels and Christian tradition as to what needs to be kept and what needs to be removed. Martin Luther did this and the results of this are the rediscovery of “repentance” instead of the mistake “do penance” which was then morphed into a individual and pious understanding not a giving up of your whole a way of life. More than just a change of heart.

This shows us that the Gospels are not to be thrown out but that the research needs to used to weigh and challenge the meanings we have known and cherished. Its a quest that needs to be done by all parts of the church (what even the evangelicals?)

History of the quest (the good stuff and the bad stuff)

State of play in the Quest for the Historical Jesus is (in Wrights view) held in three camps headed by their historical questing forbears. Wrede, Schweitzer, and Kahler

Wrede – sceptic, we cannot know much about Jesus and he never said he was the messiah. So the Gospels are fiction.

Schweitzer – Jesus lived in first century Palestine and had the same “apocalyptic expectation” he died without it coming about. Jesus started the eschatological movement that became Christianity. Oh! And the Synoptic Gospels got Jesus right.

Kahler – God said it I believe it that settles it. The bible and faith only not the imagination of historians.

From these three come the current movements within the quest, Wright considers himself within the Schweitzer camp. There is a history that is stilted when it comes to the quest with certain individuals making steps forward while others were merely piecing together small but supposedly authentic isolated sayings.

From here Wright goes on to explain that it is not enough to disagree with those who have opposing opinions because they are wrong in asking such questions but to argue the point not just them as foolish liberals or conservatives. To come up with an “alternative hypothesis” that gives a simple solution to the problem. - Challenge to those who want to begin throwing stones at each other, don;t just throw stones do the research and throw hypothesises.

Wright ends with a challenge to the church not to just to leave it to the bible boffins to come up with these new understandings. That the answers are not all found and thought of before, it is not as complete a picture as we thought it was. Wright advises that - “each generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus” that this is a task for the whole church especially the leaders and teachers. It is difficult but Wright points to the understanding and deeper knowledge that can come from such a quest, understanding that could grant us a new vision “not just of Jesus, but of God”