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”