October 8, 2012

Scot McKnight's infuriating Jesus-Bubble

I was not angry with Scot's opinions on Jesus & History until this instant. Oh, I've been disappointed before. Scot said things in 2010 that made me cheer, and then left me puzzled. And it's no stretch to say his book, Jesus Creed, was a lot more like something from Max Lucado than David McCullough. But I really am trying to quit expecting Theologians to be Historians. I'm about to try even harder, too. But in Scot's contribution to the Ledonne'r Party's new Jesus book, from the #JesusCriteria Conference , called Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity... well, first read it for yourself. Then read on to see the (unexpected?) reason it made me so angry.

From the penultimate paragraph of Scot's chapter, which was apparently supposed to be crushing:
[T]he historical Jesus enterprise is no use to the church [because] studies shift and change, from generation to generation, and that means the Jesus offered changes, and that means the church, if that Jesus is of value to the church, would be asked to re-do its Christology every generation. Whose Jesus will we trust or follow or worship? Reimarus's? Strauss's? Weiss's? Schweitzer's? Bultmann's? Kasemann's? Bornkamm's? Jeremias's? Dodd's? Montefiore's? Cadoux's? Ladd's? Meier's? Borg's? Crossan's? Levine's? Hengel's? Allison's? Bock's? Wright's? These are not the same Jesuses and that means we have to choose. Who will do the choosing? The local pastor? If so, do you realize how many more Jesuses we have? The denomination? Can you imagine that happening on a denominational floor? Nicea happened once. Or should we vote on it, a thoroughly Western approach to knowledge if ever there was one?
Now, reading this, can anyone guess why that made me mad? 

It's not because of the voting. Not that I understand why Scot thinks a denominational floor (convention?) is a bad place to discuss finer points about Jesus' identity and life story... or why he seems to think it's a good place for anything else. Or why Scot thinks Nicea was good, but that voting is bad. (Did the Nicean bishops just smile and nod to the Emperor? And is that what Scot wants?) Yes, western individualism has brought us quite the cacophony of purported Jesus-es, and given the ridiculousness of many such Jesus-es, I absolutely agree with Scot that this is not an ideal situation. But, right there, that's the point.

Do you see yet? This is what kills me about the quote: Scot writes as if he's describing some preventable but dystopian future, within christendom. But it's not hardly a yet-to-be situation. We are already thick into this chaos!!!!!

Dear Scot, all due respect completely aside, what kind of bubble are you living in? Do you really think all the christians with whom you worship in Chicago share the same view of Jesus? And if so, Scot, are you under the further deluded impression that this particular shared view somehow aligns with the "one" officially sanctioned view handed down by "the church"? Which church is that, again? Yours? Rome's? Constantinople's? Luther's? Calvin's? John Wesley's? John Darby's? Watchman Nee's? Billy Graham's? John McArthur's? Francis Chan's? Mark Driscoll's? Rob Bell's? Frank Viola's? (Etc.)

Again and again, Scot writes of "the church's Jesus". Academically, he refers to the "one" Jesus we have in our four canonical Gospels. On paper, perhaps. But which Jesus do you wake up and pray to, dear Scot? Matthew's Jesus? Mark's Jesus? Luke's Jesus? Or John's Jesus? Do you change your mind every day, sometimes preferring to pray to the shining Jesus of Revelation? I trust you don't go as far as Ricky Bobby, the character Will Ferrell portrayed as preferring to pray to the "eight pound, six ounce, baby Jesus", but Ferrell was laser honed into this issue 

It's like Richard Bauckham said at Baylor last year, in a group conversation after the lectures: we cannot wake up and decide to call on Luke's Jesus today. Therefore, some combination is inevitable. And that, Scot, is what the work of HISTORY, actually, does.

Neglect that... deny that... ignore that... avoid that... and you only wind up perpetuating the chaos.

For worse, and perhaps not often for better, we each already have our own personal Jesuses. It happened a long time before we had Matt Mikalatos or Depeche Mode to show up and observe that we did.

In 2010, Scot tried to make clear that "the HJ enterprise" was his target. Not "historical" work in general. But now he's gone farther, and the fact that he's against all historiography on the Gospels is only slightly less infuriating than the fact that - apparently - Scot believes christendom is currently insulated from such chaos and can remain so if we just ignore the academic Jesus-es.

Our people perish for lack of knowledge. We have the Gospels. But how can we understand what we read if we have no one to explain it for us?

We need Christian Historians, not to defend the Gospels (like Bock & Wright), but to build a coherent portrait of Jesus through performing competent historiography on top of the Gospels.

We need this very badly. And I confess, the real reason I get mad at disinterested scholars like poor Scot McKnight... honestly... is because I still deeply and desperately wish the academic version of this were going to be pioneered by someone other than myself. But if it is to be, it may be up to me. And I'll have to stop complaining about others failing to do what only I seem to care about doing...

Either way, we need Christian Historians to do Historiography on the Gospels.

One way or another, dear God, hasten the day...

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