Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Easter Reading

Easter is upon us on March 23rd. As a service to preachers who are trying to figure out ways to proclaim this mystery and as a service to churchgoers who dread attending another sermon in which the preacher berates people's intelligence by telling them that in order to be a Christian they have to believe that the corpse of the historical Jesus came back to life, I recommend for your Easter joy...

Jesus is Dead

Written by Robert M. Price, this is a collection of writings around the theme of Resurrection.

This collection of writings on the resurrection of Jesus (or lack of it) represents a selection of debate statements, books reviews, and critiques of internet papers, as well as research reports and original papers. Price considers the views of older apologists F.F. Bruce, John Warwick Montgomery, and Josh McDowell, as well as newer ones like N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, James Patrick Holding, and Glenn Miller. The critical views of Andrew J.M. Wedderburn, Gregory J. Riley, and Jonathan Z. Smith receive scrutiny as well. Nor do quack books dealing with an alien Jesus or with the Templar Jesus escape notice.

Of all the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, Robert Price is not only the most radical, but in my view, the most entertaining and thought-provoking. Price's view of the Jesus Seminar is that they were too conservative regarding the historicity of material in the New Testament Gospels.

Price is first and foremost a truth-seeker and a scholar.

You may wonder why I, a Christian minister, and an orthodox one at that, would recommend this book and Price's other works, and the works of other Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, and the works of other scholars of early Christian origins (I mean real scholars, not hacks).

Yes, you read me correctly. I am an orthodox Christian firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition. Shuck and Jive is the most Reformed blog on the web. I make that extravagantly humble and unprovable assertion in part because our deeply rich, varied, and open-ended tradition is always in danger of being hijacked by those who lack adequate understanding of science, history, and theology.

For instance, if Christians want to make the theological claim that God creates the world, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm evolutionary theory.

If Christians want to make the theological claim that Jesus is alive, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm historical scholarship of the New Testament.

Thankfully, our Reformed Tradition fully embraces scholarship. Because of that our theology is always reforming.

Back to Robert Price. He shows throughout these essays that the "resurrection accounts" are fictions. It is really pretty obvious. The Jesus Seminar scholars concluded the same thing. The more bashful scholars, once you finally get them to move beyond their dissembling, also affirm that, yes, the accounts of the empty tomb are more indebted to creative storytelling than to historical reportage.

It is difficult for many Christians to accept that. A Jesus who is not "historical" cannot be real and worthy of Christian worship, so the argument goes. For some, that is true. Price is an atheist. That is his choice. I don't think one has to make that choice. I do not.

In a similar way, some scientists are atheists. Some are not. Whether or not one chooses to be an atheist or a theist, or a person of a particular covenant or not, is independent of science and history. I simply argue that the church is not served by bad science (ie. creationism) and bad history (ie. false claims for the historicity of the resurrection).

If the church can't take it, it deserves to die. Those of us who proclaim the theological mystery of the Risen Christ would do well to make that claim credible by appreciating true scholarship of Christian origins.

For a Reformed Theology of the 21st century, I think two claims must be held with respect and awe:

Jesus is Alive and Jesus is Dead.