Exploring the historical Jesus

Despite the hindrance of one of the largest blizzards in the 20th century, the 61st annual Ministers' Week, with the topic of "Jesus, the Bible and the Church," served as a venue for theology school alumni, faculty and area pastors to discuss much of the present controversy concerning Christianity and the modern world.

While events were cancelled on Jan. 8 due to the storm, events on Jan. 9 and 10 remained intact. One of the conference's highlights was Professor Luke Johnson's lecture, titled "The Real Jesus: The Challenge of Current Scholarship and the Truth of the Gospels."

Johnson, a New Testament scholar and outspoken critic of the "Jesus Seminar," a small but well-publicized group that debates the historical aspects of Jesus' life and ministry, is the author of the recently published book, The Real Jesus. He pointed out that the recent controversy surrounding the movement and "the historical Jesus" has been anything but good for biblical scholarship or the church--indeed, he stated that "the constant stirring of the media pot by the Jesus Seminar" was having a "disastrous impact on an American Christianity . . . already deeply divided over the issue of how Christianity should engage modernity."

Johnson's primary criticism of the group concerned the definition of history itself: "No historical reconstruction, however adequate, yields the `real Jesus.'" He called the Jesus Seminar's efforts to trace the historical validity of Jesus' life and actions a "misguided quest."

"The `real Jesus' for Christian faith is the resurrected Jesus," he continued. "From the beginning, Christians have taken the resurrection to be the defining event concerning Jesus and the fundamental perspective from which to assess the `real Jesus.'"

Following Johnson's address, theology professors Gail O'Day and Mike Ripski offered their response. Although O'Day called Johnson's paper "rich and provocative," she disagreed with his method of response to the media circus through his book, saying scholars must "carve out their own space in the flash and dazzle media world." She said the interpretation of the real Jesus as the resurrected Jesus was "deeply problematic" and "risk[ed] isolating Jesus from God's work and people...the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Jesus is the real Jesus."

Ripski agreed with Johnson's interpretation of history as subjective and said his efforts "point in a good direction." However, he concurred with O'Day on the resurrection issue: "We finesse the issue of who Jesus is by focusing on the resurrected Jesus."

-- Danielle Service