putting historical research in perspective
October 16, 2008
OK, so it’s not a secret that large parts of the church consider academic theology a waste of time. It’s not a secret that large parts of the church consider historical Jesus research heretical. I’m not part of this large group, but sometimes I think academics need to get some perspective.
I attended a public debate today titled: “Who is the real Jesus? Shaman, fatherless child, or more?” The speakers were:
- Andries van Aarde, for whom I have a lot of respect, who wrote Fatherless in Galilee, and I’ve mentioned him a number of times on the blog.
- Pieter Craffert, quite a controversial figure in South African theological circles, I know nothing about him, but he seems like a nice guy, and he recently wrote a book The Life of a Galilean Shaman.
- Ruben Zimmerman, some German New Testament scholar that’s visiting South Africa or something.
I consider the historical Jesus quest to be of great importance. The best reason in my view remain the way in which early 20th century Germany was able to massacre the Jews, and that in the name of the church! They have lost their historical roots, and forgotten that Jesus was a Jew, something which all historical Jesus research emphasize.
Also today historical Jesus research always remain a critical reminder of the radical message of Jesus. Dominic Crossan’s story written at the end of Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography (a popular edition of his major work The Historical Jesus), of how Jesus congratulated him on The Historical Jesus, and then asked him: “Are you willing to follow me on my mission?”, remain that of many of us who get to understand something of the historical Jesus… we cannot do other but answer: “I’m not sure”. Because historical Jesus research remind us of how radical the message of Jesus really was.
And in future this will still be the case, I believe, and I will keep on reading work done on the historical Jesus. But sitting there today, I felt like I was taking a step back, looking at the broader conversation, and wondering why we were having this debate. Why do we make such a big thing about the small differances between different scholars? Within the big picture, with Christian fundamentalism on the one side, the new Atheist movement on the other, they seem pretty close together for me.
I sometimes wish academics will take some more time to point towards that which they do agree upon, and help develop tools for addressing the major questions of the church today, and less fighting about small things among each other. But maybe I’ll have a little more perspective tommorow, and understand that this is the task of academics…