August 3, 2009

Dealing with Nazareth - 3

The number one thing that has always bugged me about theology is that it seems so easy to cheat - especially when the prevailing view is that the deeper meanings of scripture are metaphorical instead of metaphysical. I felt the same way studying English Lit - terms become purely abstract, ideas get redefined and conflated, and thoughts divorce from reality. John Bunyan is a perfect example. Allegory is label, symbolism, concept. Just think your way through whatever the trouble is and trust that God will be there with you, in the thinking.

I know Theology as a field is Philosophy focused on the Divine, which gets sub-divided into categories by restricting input - Systematic Th., Biblical Th., NT Th., Th. of Romans, Baptist Th., Etc. Then there's Pop Th., "Redneck Th." - and the broadest category of all - Personal Th. Essentially, everyone builds up their own God Logic. Some are more thoroughly justified than others and some are more consistent than others but even the most well defended theologies boil down to pure logical thinking. "Garbage in, garbage out." It's all hit or miss, often swung with a white knuckled fist, and there's almost always a twist.

So to get back to business, I've been asking myself for two years What can I say about Jesus in Nazareth? But I started this project four years ago, at which point I never expected to be fighting this battle at all. I just didn't like leaving so many Year Books so bare of material about the Lord. Isn't Jesus worth more than Tiberius? Isn't he more interesting? Shouldn't He be the focus of every Year Book, at least for a couple of paragraphs?

Over time, my own year-by-year thinking built up until I couldn't stop wondering, what the heck was He doing all during that time? Obviously, imagination is easy. Devotional reconstructions can sometimes be beautiful and inspiring. But what can we say in terms of physical real-life events that is reasonably justifiable, in terms of a faith-based historiography of the Gospels? In other words, I have been asking myself: what can we say, without cheating?

So while I haven't been formally trained in theology, I do think I know a 'hawk' from a 'handsaw'. Long time readers know my mind to some degree. I'm interested in reconstructing events for the sake of events. So if I read a scripture that clearly relates Who, What, When or Where, I'm going to consider it a factual event - whether physical or metaphysical. But if I read a scripture that says something unclear, or something that requires interpretation, I'm going to leave it totally-the-heck-alone. At least, that's the working plan at the moment.

So yes, of course, I barely know what I'm doing here. Maybe that's an advantage in some ways as well, but let's judge it after I'm done attempting it. After all, who really knows? Maybe the reason nobody has reconstructed the life of Jesus in Nazareth (as a primarily historical reconstruction, with minimal theological assumptions as necessary - or if they have please point me to it) could be because larger Theologies have always held first place for all scholars who would ever have been likely to consider the project. But there's a first time for everything, right? And I strongly suspect there are more ways of dealing with scripture than have yet to be dreamed of in our philosophies, "Horatio".

To be continued...

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