Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What should we call Jesus?

The "Jesus kerygma" is becoming more and more dominant in the church over the "Christ kerygma." (Kerygma, in this case, means "the proclamation of the good news.") I wonder what would happen if preachers, pastors, and teachers began to experiment more with saying "our Lord" or "Jesus Christ" or even just "Christ" as an alternative to "Jesus." This suggestion is meant to apply across the board, to conservative and fundamentalist types as well as to liberals.

Larry Hurtado, leading New Testament scholar at the University of Edinburgh, named his massive study of earliest Christian Christology Lord Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2003). His point in doing so is to trace the use of this full title to the very first days of the New Testament church. The earliest Christians saw the man Jesus of Nazareth as something very much more than a religious leader worthy of emulation. This factor, however, gets lost in the weekly round of sermons and homilies based on stories from the Synoptic Gospels (John's Gospel is less used, I note; his Christology is unapologetically high). By telling stories about Jesus and using them to illustrate the way we should behave, the preacher avoids the moment of revelation-- "My Lord and my God!" (Thomas in John 20) S/he also avoids the power of the personal confession, which should be at least implied in every sermon.

Preachers and teachers on the evangelical and pentecostal end of the spectrum might also benefit from this move, since emotional emphasis on "Jesus" as the "sweetest name I know" tends to individualize and sentimentalize his place in the heart of the believer, as well as underplaying his cosmic reign over the principalities and powers.