Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Will the real Jesus please stand up?

To all of you out there who are wondering if orthodox Christology can survive all the attacks being made on it, there is hopeful news. A research project has been completed at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, and its findings will be published in Seeking The Identity of Jesus (Eerdmans will ship in late September).

Those who have not necessarily been following the "Jesus wars" may not be aware of the intensity of the struggle to keep a door open for the ancient creedal and conciliar affirmations about Jesus Christ. The widespread attacks on classic Christology coming from the "Jesus Seminar" and other sources have been so pervasive, and in many cases so deceptively attractive, that they have taken over much of the preaching and teaching of the mainline churches without anyone noticing.

In the church today, there are two distinct ways of speaking about Jesus. We can call them the Jesus kerygma and the Christ kerygma (the Greek word kerygma means proclamation or announcement but is principally used in a theological context to refer to the gospel message).

The Jesus kerygma is familiar to those who hear sermons in most of the mainline churches, because the habit nowadays is to preach every Sunday from the stories in the Synoptic Gospels. Each of these Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) has a Christ kerygma, but one can easily miss it if sermons are focused essentially on such themes as Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, his welcoming of outcasts, his healings, his "inclusion" of women, his self-sacrificing style of life, and so forth. The effect has been to leave us with an impression of an extraordinary (but not necessarily unique) person who in some way reveals the love of God and inspires us to follow him in the practice of radical hospitality, willing service, embrace of the other. These are aspects of his ministry by no means to be downgraded, but when the high Christology of the Gospel of John and the Lordship of Christ in the epistles of Paul have gone missing, something less than the eternal Son of God is here.

Therefore it is very good news to hear of the Identity of Jesus Research Group. Beverley Roberts Gaventa of Princeton, co-chair of the group (together with Richard B. Hays of Duke) summarizes their conclusions in these words:

"The work of the project ranged across the biblical canon, church tradition, and contemporary Christian life, and no easy consensus has emerged. Yet the varying perspectives converged around the notion that historical investigation into the life of Jesus is necessary but not sufficient. While this group affirms the importance of historical work, especially work that situates Jesus in first-century Judaism, it differs from many recent approaches to Jesus in two ways:

"1) The group insists that Jesus is not reducible to what can be learned from historical research alone.
"2) The group contends that the Creeds of the Church are in continuity with the identity of Jesus as revealed in Scripture."

This should be of great comfort to us who wish to say wholeheartedly,

I believe (Credo) in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father…..

(The members of the Identity of Jesus Research Group are: Dale Allison, Gary Anderson, Markus Bockmuehl, Sarah Coakley, Brian Daley, A. Katherine Grieb, Robert Jenson, Joel Marcus, Walter Moberly, William Placher, Katherine Sonderegger, David Steinmetz, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Francis Watson. The group met in Princeton for three years, from 2003 to 2006.)