Albert Nolan wrote brilliantly on how Jesus is not merely the object of our spirtuality, but was also a subject that stood in relation to God, and from whom we can learn about spirituality. The basic thesis of Jesus Today was the historical Jesus research has enough to offer that we can reconstruct the spirituallity of Jesus. Andries van Aarde built his book, Fatherless in Galilee, around the assumption that Jesus found a Father in God, since he didn’t have an earthly father, which also say something about Jesus’ spirituality.

But while this quest for finding Jesus, that prophet, the human guy, who walked around Galilee and Jerusalem roundabout 30 AD, goes on both in the academic world, and also with a growing group of Christians in pews, coffeeshops and slums, another group of Christians is opting for an extreme divinization of Jesus. As someone told me earlier today, in response to my saying that we can learn from Jesus how to live in relationship with God: “Jesus had an unfair advantage, he was divine”.

This is not a new idea, and probably we’ll find this underlying an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which says that the Sermon on the Mount was never meant to be followed, but to show us that we are unable to live as we should, only Jesus could follow that – it should remind us how sinfull we are so that we’ll turn to God, to Jesus. Out of fear that we’ll turn Jesus into just another moral teacher, we divinized Jesus up to the point where both the life Jesus had with God, and the way he lived, is something totally undervalued, ignored, and rather exchanged for a Jesus which is purely the object of faith.

I remember Tony Jones saying back in 2006 that our generation is the WWJD generation. Thinking back on my primary school days I could see where he was coming from. Although on the other side of the world, and definitely less extreme, Adam at Pomomusings probably did an accurate description of the WWJD culture of the time (I never wore more than one, but basically everyone in our school had one). Critique can be delivered against the idea, but in our 12-year old minds we were opposing the idea that Jesus was merely divine, that the way of Jesus couldn’t be lived, and that he’s teaching was impossible to follow.

How we’ve come to this point I don’t know. How we got the church so polarized I don’t know either, maybe it’s always been like this. But somehow I can’t seem to think that the early church ever thought other than that we were supposed to follow the example of Jesus. They talked about the son of God, and about us being children of God. They said that our minds should work in the same way as that of Jesus Christ, we should hold the same view (Phil 2:5). Trying to live life in the way of Jesus is not denying the divinity of Christ (oh how I hate having to qualify things like this, but I’ll do it since I know that some tend imply this), it is simply trying to reconnect with the thinking of the early church. I guess this is part of my attempt at a “Christology from the side“…

I don’t know when this question struck me the first time, but attending an Alpha course again tonight it struck me again: How unique was the suffering of Jesus really?

I’ve heard it countless times, how Christians talk about how bad the suffereing of Christ was. About the extreme pain, how the extreme pain Jesus experienced was something that no one could even imagine. Add to that the fact that he was innocent, which supposedly makes the pain even worse!

But the more I think about it, the more this sound like utter nonsense. I mean, many others was crucified, many of them similarly innocent (understand the Roman government of the time and the role of crucifixions in keeping people in line to understand my comment). Thousands over the ages have been tortured and killed innocently, and I believe the human specie only got better at torture as time goes by.

It’s as if Christians have this extreme fear of finding out that Jesus was just another human like me and you. Just a plain crusifixion would have been extremely bad, just as bad as it would have been for any other human. You know that it was an early Christian heresy to downplay the humanity of Christ? But by amplifying the uniqueness of his suffering, ain’t we downplaying his humanity? As if the normal suffering that a human would undergo isn’t enough, it had to be worse than anything you could imagine.

I don’t doubt the uniqueness of Christ. But I believe that much of what Jesus did was not unique to him. The Bible doesn’t have a problem with this. It talks about sharing in the suffering of Christ (Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10), about following Paul like he follows Jesus (1 Cor 11:1), about disciples doing the same things that Jesus did (Matt 10). Jesus was imitated, followed. Others have done similar things. In many respects what Jesus broughts was not supposed to be unique, but rather point to something that is common! Maybe his suffering is not supposed to be unique either. Maybe his suffering is exaclty that which so many Christians suffered while being persecuted, which so many slaves suffered on slaveboats, which so many poor have suffered at the hands of the rich. The extreme example of what humanity is capable of! The value of the severity of his suffering then is not in it being worse that what others suffer, but exactly in it’s being just as bad as what others are suffering!

Again, I don’t doubt the uniqueness of Christ. But I don’t like the unnatural way that it gets enforced, and can’t see why this is neccesary. Had I been an outsider I might have asked if there is something these people are trying to hide by overemphasizing this so much?

It always amazes me how quick we are to critique that which we know nothing about. I catch myself doing it. Did it again a few days ago when one of the young people at church was reading a book which I read almost 10 years ago, and couldn’t really remember. I went into an elaborate critique of the book, and that evening was greeted by a message of facebook from the girl, with a quote from the book showing me that I was completely wrong in my critique:-) We tend to learn the hard way…

I told Maryke the other day that I guess my biggest problem with fundamentalist Christians is the fact that they really don’t listen, and make assumptions about others on things they know nothing about. When it comes to the quest for the historical Jesus, you’ll find lots of opinions from people who haven’t ever read anything in this line! I remember visiting one of my lecturers in my second year, when experiencing some severe struggles with my own faith (a story for another day), and how he told me that in his research he works with historical criticism! I was shocked! I had the utmost respect for this person, both as lecturer, but also as fellow believer. I later learned what historical criticism was, and just smiled.

Now, in really listening to anything, in really attempting to understand something (including ourselves) I believe that we should make more of history and narrative. The two aint so far apart in my view. We should understand the story of how things came to be. How it developed. If you pick up almost any good book on the historical Jesus, you’ll find a long introduction explaining the different stages of the introduction and how this work slots into this history, and thus why certain methodological choices was made.

In the coming posts I will use terms like first quest, second quest, third quest, no quest, and several names of people. I do this not to sound smart or show of (actually, I would much rather have you take up a book like NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, but knowing that many of my readers would never do that, and also to get myself to rethink these things, I’ll continue this series). But to understand why we continue this search, we need to see why it started, why it stopped at certain points, which mistakes was made, and also how many different opinions exist.

I will use two questions throughout the series. And again I need to credit me professor in historical Jesus research for teaching me this way of looking at the quest.

  1. Is it theologically relevant?
  2. Is it methodologically possible?

Think about them. What would you say? Why?

Previous post: the historical Jesus 1: Introduction

We had our first gathering of the Pretoria Emerging Cohort (for lack of any better and more local name at this stage) tonight. I’ll skip on saying much bout that, you’d probably find more voices here in future. Mynhardt asked when I’ll blog about what I thought of the Historical Jesus debate which happened a few days ago… well, I did touch on it, but not much I guess. So I decided to write some more on it. Actually, I decided to a series! I’ve never been very good with blogging a series of posts, but I’m gonna try:-)

Works on the Historical Jesus is of importance in my own thoughts, so this series I write for Mynhardt, in response to the question, but also for myself, to actually just think through some of these things again. I’m gonna try and give some background to the quest for the historical Jesus in a few posts, and do it in such a way that the reader without knowledge of the quest can understand (I hope). Understanding the long history of the quest is of absolute importance in order to understand both the value as well as the limitations of the quest.

OK, another thing. I’m not into doing research on the historical Jesus. Firstly my Greek is way too bad, secondly, I’m much too impatiant to do that kind of detailed research. Rather, I’m a theologian, so I read books on the historical Jesus with the eyes of a theologian, thus asking what the theological implications of something would be, not that of a historian asking what could possibly be known.

I’ll try and keep posts short and to the point. Please ask questions, it would help me see where to go in the series.

If I write anything of worth, you probably have to thank professor Ernest van Eck at the department of New Testament Studies at TUKS. His classes on the historical Jesus not only opened my eyes for towards the research, it formed my faith in Jesus, and provided a place of comfort for my own theological thinking. He was the one lecturer that said we could miss his classes… and the one who’s classes I never missed. If ever you take his module on the historical Jesus: Pay attention!

OK, the series will start tomorrow…

on the primacy of mission:

October 20, 2008

Why is mission so central at this stage? Should it be? Is it possible that as missiologists we should “dethrone” mission from its current position of privilege in theological talk? Why the missional church? Why the missio Dei? And why am I even asking these questions?

I didn’t follow much why back with the Christology, Ecclesiology, Missiology argument raging on. But from what I gather many today seem to say something in the line of “Christology forms our Missiology forms our Ecclesiology”, right? But how do we come to this?

It was Andries van Aarde’s Fatherless in Galilee that pointed me in the direction of the idea of a “Christology from the side”. Where a “high Christology” tend to work out our Christology from the faith-language (read “dogma”, “theology” etc.) of the Bible and church and a low Christology tend to construct Christology from the historical reconstructions on the life of Jesus, a Christology from the side focus on how the contemporaries of Jesus would have seen Jesus (I’ve typed this from memory after reading the book almost a year ago, so I hope I got it somewhat right).

The relation Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology seem to come from a high view of theology, I think. Where some worked out idea on Christology (whether high or low) should give rise to our understanding of mission (which if you read the work of David Bosch, is quite difficult to do without an idea about who is doing this mission, but I’ll leave that part for now), understood very broadly, which should then form our thinking on church. Looking from the side, tracing the narrative of the Jesus-movement and early church, I have some doubts whether we will come to the same conclusion:

From the side we see the this guy Jesus, a sort-off Rabbi who calls those who didn’t make the usual Rabbi cut to follow him. This group was formed by the words and actions of Jesus, the way in which Jesus interacted with the culture within which he found himself. The events surrounding Easter round-about 27AD or so happened, and we then find this already formed community of Jesus-followers remaining in community. If we follow the Acts-narrative, it is within this community that the implications of being a community living in the way of Jesus is then worked out. Acts 6 – If we are community, how do we care for those of other ethnic backgrounds? Acts 13 – How do we create similar communities in other places? And later in Acts the implication of being in this community in a time of famine is also worked out.

From the side I see a not-so-average-Rabbi calling not-so-average-disciples, teaching them his anything-but-average-ways. These not-so-average-disciples continue the community, not because the community should perform some strategic function within the strategic plan which the Rabbi (didn’t?) lay out for the world, but because this community continues to seek for the ways of this Rabbi, which was recognized as Jesus the Lord.

Looking from the side, I doubt whether we see an early Christian community getting together because this is seen as the implication of the message of Jesus. I doubt whether a number of scared disciples get together after the crucifixion because the preaching on the kingdom of God had as implication that communities should be formed. Rather, a shared experience surrounding Jesus bring these people together, and the words and actions of Jesus in relation to his culture force them to consider their own words and actions.

If our task is to write a systematic treatise on theology we might end up with mission being primary, forming a centerpiece of the puzzle. If we tell the story of how it came to be, then, looking from the side, mission could be almost missing, the centre pieces rather being occupied by Jesus and the community who gathered around him and because of him. Rather, what we consider as mission today then seems to ooze out everywhere.

Well, OK, late-night ramblings after some heavy theological discussions earlier… but such is the nature of a blog