April 21, 2010

Gorman vs. Gorman

On Monday, Michael Gorman posted his review of "the Jesus day" at Wheaton's NT Wright Rodeo. In agreeing with Richard Hays, Gorman had this to say, against the inevitable evils of reconstructing a "5th gospel":
The quest for an alleged single story of Jesus behind the four gospels is theologically problematic, since such a quest deliberately muffles the distinctive voices of the evangelists and tries to create a kind of historian’s Diatessaron...
Fair enough, maaaaybe, but I mused on that point in my last post (an hour ago). What I want to say here is quite different.

Later on down the (really wonderful, btw) post, Gorman writes about Wright's response to Hays, including this bit: "Bishop Tom noted that one of his concerns about reading Jesus through the creeds and tradition is that they have tended to engage in the “de-Israelitization” (his neologism on the spot) of Jesus, God, and the gospel." Gorman then agreed to some extent, but went on to defend the creeds. I've no argument there. But, again, it's his line of reasoning I want to examine more closely. Watch carefully:
One way to deal with this is to realize that the creeds and the Christian tradition more generally do not override or replace the gospels—or at least they shouldn’t. They provide a hermeneutical lens, not a straight-jacket. That is, when we read the gospel narratives of Jesus the Jew, the creeds tell us, we are not reading the story of merely a Jewish teacher, healer, etc. He is, of course, that first-century Jew, but he is that first-century Jew simultaneously, and inseparably, as the once-incarnate and now crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming Son of God.
Again, no argument here. But tell me, now. Does anyone else see a conflict in the reasoning of these two quotations, or is it just me?

If the creeds and all of Christian tradition (!) can be safely constructed on top of our four cannonical gospels, without being seen as hermeneutical straight-jackets, then why can't a "fifth Gospel"?


Michael J. Gorman said...

Thanks for drawing attention to my blog.

Two quick points:

1. I never said "all" Christian tradition.

2. I don't think there's a contradiction. Tradition supplements, and helps guide the interpretation of, the four gospels. It does not supplant them. The concern in the first comment is with the supplanting of the four gospels' narratives with an allegedly historically reconstructed narrative that muffles the distinctive contributions of each gospel. When history does not do that, it has a legitimate role, as Hays also made clear in his lecture. I would contend that the four gospels can never be supplanted, neither by history nor by tradition.

Bill Heroman said...

Michael, I was hoping you'd comment. Thanks so much. To your points:

1. True. Still, your phrase "the Christian tradition more generally" sounded fairly all-encompassing. "the"?

2. It could be interesting to discuss whether tradition does or does not ever "supplant" the Gospels and/or their interpretation... but I've no specific thoughts on that at the moment.

What does still confuse me is this. You say "the supplanting of the [Gospels] with an [historical narrative]", but then you say, "the four gospels can never be supplanted".

Which is it?

If the four gospels are in no danger of being supplanted, then why all the concern against History?

PS: I do plan to analyze Hays' presentation some more, as regarding his use of the term "History". Hopefully soon...

Michael J. Gorman said...

It's late, and I was not precise: "The four gospels should never be supplanted." Not that they can't be, but they shouldn't be.

Bill Heroman said...

I understand. Thanks again.

I'm still sensing an imbalance of caution, from Christian scholars at large, about this issue.

Maybe the real problem isn't that "5th gospels" MUST (automatically) supplant the cannonical four, but that so many have purposely attempted to.

Last question:

Is it possible, in your thought, to write a Christian History based on the Gospels which does NOT supplant them?

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