Preaching Jesus to Skeptics

There a few Greek words in this document that use an expensive proprietary Greek font, but not enough to worry about if you don’t have it.

This paper does not intend to provide a comprehensive analysis or critique of The Jesus Seminar. Numerous such articles and books have already been written (see the bibliography). Although an overview will be provided, the primary purpose is not rebuttal. I would like to express my appreciation to my colleague, Dr. John Lawlor, for taking time to read and interact with a major portion of this paper.



Nature of The Jesus Seminar
Leaders of TJS
Summary of the Work of TJS
Goals of TJS
Methodology of TJS

Response to The Jesus Seminar
Academic perspectives
Relationship of faith and history
Relationship to postmodernity
Ministry perspectives


Select Bibliography


Each year around Easter there is an outbreak of media attention focused on the radical agenda of The Jesus Seminar (TJS). The individuals who comprise this effort known as TJS have spent the last ten years endeavoring to counter what they consider to be the dangerous popularity of right-wing fundamentalists-literalists who believe that the Bible records an inspired, inerrant, historical record of Jesus of Nazareth. TJS wants equal time in the media arena to argue for a different view of Jesus, one which Christians who accept the Bible as authoritative consider to be “another Jesus.”

The popularity of TJS (and the skepticism that it has engendered) can be seen in the quantity of material available on the World Wide Web. A fairly wide-ranging selection of links to that material has been collected on a web page for review.{1} Included are news reports, scholarly studies, popular reactions, and TJS apologetics. At one end of the spectrum are sites that may be described in “net-lingo” as “flames”-reactionary views of the heresies of TJS. At the opposite pole are sites that employ TJS conclusions to argue against Christianity.{2} Some sites argue for TJS methodology and conclusions on a popular level.{3}Others present more careful analyses of the Seminar or scholarly resources on the subject, whether positive, negative, or non-committal.{4}

A source that is still more accessible than the web to many people is the media reporting of TJS that often appears each Easter. Seldom has a year gone by (since TJS began its publicity campaign) that this writer has not been approached by someone in a local church to ask about a TJS-related article in the press. The major news magazines have all carried feature articles in recent years-usually as cover stories.{5} Their attitude towards TJS varies. Some articles describe the Seminar as composed of “maverick scholars,”{6} or “rebel scholars” who engage in “political revisionism” on the “left fringes of contemporary scholarship,”{7} “radical” and “outside the mainstream … iconoclastic;”{8} others would say “iconoclastic and provocative.”{9} Other accounts are more positive, describing such efforts as “a new surge of scholarly energy”-one probably necessary to attain a “clearer, purer vision of Jesus.”{10} An attempted objective, neutral position may be found in other articles, reporting positions and statements by both TJS participants as well as their mainline and conservative critics.{11} Most daily newspapers have also carried coverage at some time or another over the past decade, including many of the national papers.{12}

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Nature of The Jesus Seminar

Leaders of TJS

Although there are 70+ “fellows” of the seminar (and close to 200 “participants”), there are only a few key individuals. The co-chairmen of TJS are Robert W. Funk and John Dominic Crossan. In addition, Marcus Borg has become well known.{13}

Funk is best known in scholarly circles for his work translating and editing Blass’ grammar.{14} In his early years a revival preacher from rural Texas, Funk has since taught at Harvard (and several other well known schools) and has been the president of the Society of Biblical Literature.{15} He organized TJS in 1985 in an attempt to start a new reformation{16} of Christianity: “to set Jesus free” from “scriptural and creedal prisons.” He wants to “reinvent Christianity” (his own words) based on a new view of Jesus, whom he views as “the first stand-up Jewish comic” for whom starting a religion “would have been the farthest thing from his mind.”{17}

Crossan, an Irish-born and educated scholar recently retired from DePaul Univ. in Chicago, is a prolific writer.{18} Although formerly a Roman Catholic priest, he has not attended mass regularly since he left the priesthood to marry in 1969. Although he is the co-chair of TJS, his version of Jesus is quite different from Funk’s. Crossan views Jesus as a “revolutionary peasant who resisted economic and social tyranny in Roman-occupied Palestine. He was a Jewish Cynic who wandered from town to town, teaching unconventional wisdom and subverting oppressive social customs.”{19}

Borg is the mystic among TJS fellows, drawing upon Buddhist philosophy, psychology, alternative realities, and various forms of pagan mysticism.{20} His studies at Union Seminary (NY) and Oxford first exposed him to the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith,{21} enabling him to forsake his atheism for Christianity. He now sees Jesus as a “spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet and movement founder.”{22}

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Summary of the Work of TJS

The work and conclusions of TJS may be briefly summarized as follows. Since Jesus may not be understood by a na?e reading of the NT documents, it is necessary to employ historical critical methods to determine the truth about Jesus.{23} TJS has worked on two major projects thus far. The first (which has garnered the most attention to date) has been to determine what Jesus really said; the second stage of their study is to determine what Jesus really did. In attempting to identify the original words of Jesus, TJS amassed a listing of all the words attributed to Jesus in the early centuries, including not only the canonical accounts but also various documents traditionally considered apocryphal or pseudepigraphal.{24} All of these were then studied and debated by the fellows of the seminar. Following closure of the debate on each statement a vote was conducted (using colored beads designed primarily for media consumption{25}) and a verdict rendered on a four-level scale. Words that were really spoken by Jesus were identified in red, those that he definitely did not speak were color coded black. Two intermediate levels (pink and gray) were also employed.{26}

The results of this media-oriented balloting are the cause of the uproar over TJS. Why? Primarily because so few words were acknowledged as genuine. Only a fraction of the material considered was graded red. On a book-by-book basis, here is what the five gospels{27} record that Jesus really said: Mark 12:17b; Matthew 5:39, 40, 41, 42a, 44b; 6:9b; 20:1-15; 22:21c; Luke 6:20, 21a, 21b, 27b, 29b, 30a; 10:30-35; 11:2b; 13:20-21, 33; 16:1-8a; 20:25b; John [nothing!]; Thomas 20:2-4; 54; 100:2b.

That they can be listed in only a few lines is, in itself, significant. Even if the full text is given (see figure 1 below), it does not take a great deal of space to record all the original words of the laconic founder of Christianity.{28} How these few verbal scraps could ever spawn a movement that would soon turn the world upside down is a mystery indeed.

Now that TJS has completed their excision of Jesus’ words, they are applying their scissors to the record of his deeds. It is almost certain that they will have a similar proportion of what Jesus really did when the results of their study are published.

Figure 1

Mark 12:17b Pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God!
Matthew 5:39b-42a Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. Give to the one who begs from you;
44b Love your enemies
6:9b Our Father
20:1-15 [one of only three extended passages: 15 verses, parable of the workers in the vineyard]
22:21c Pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God!
Luke 6:20b-21 Congratulations, you poor!
God’s domain belongs to you.
Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.
Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.
6:27b love your enemies,
6:29-30a When someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well. When someone takes away your coat, don’t prevent that person from taking your shirt along with it. Give to everyone who begs from you;
10:30b-35 [the second extended passage: 5 verses, parable of the good Samaritan]
11:2b Father
13:20b-21 What does God’s imperial rule remind me of? It is like leaven which a woman took and concealed in fifty pounds of flour until it was all leavened.
16:1b-8a [the third extended passage: 7.5 verses, parable of the shrewd manager]
20:25b Then pay the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and God what belongs to God!
John nothing!
Thomas 20:2-4 It’s like a mustard seed. ?It’sÒ¼/font> the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.
54b Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven’s domain.
100:2b-3 Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God,


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Goals of TJS

Why has TJS embarked on this project? What do they hope to accomplish? It is the opinion of TJS that true, historical knowledge of Jesus has been unduly cloistered in academia. Their goal is to popularize the results of historical critical scholarship using the media as their primary tool. In typical fashion, they cite apocryphal literature (rather than biblical texts) to bolster their effort: “The scholars have taken the keys of knowledge and hidden them” (Gospel of Thomas 39:1). They explain that they intend to “find the keys and unlock the doors too long bolted shut by a combination of elitism and technical jargon.”{29} To present academic research in intelligible terms is a commendable goal, but there is more to it than that. Funk, the founder of TJS, viewed it as an “ethical necessity” to counter the right-wing televangelists on their own turf: the media.{30} Crossan admits that “there was a deliberate decision to play to the media.”{31} Even the media recognizes that the seminar participants “revel in the outrage their views provoke and bask in the limelight created by their own publicity machine.”{32}

Why have they felt that an “ethical necessity” compels them to go public? Johnson suggests that it is related to the marginalization of biblical scholarship in contemporary culture. The course pursued by historical critical scholarship has created an ever-widening gap between esoteric ideologies of the academy and the reality and needs of the church (and society). The dissonance that such scholars experience between their narrow specializations and the indifference of the culture to such efforts has provoked some of them to attempt to find some means of confirming their significance in the culture. TJS is one such effort to regain cultural clout and influence.{33} Carson’s evaluation in this regard is perceptive.

For all of its scholarly pretension, the Jesus Seminar is not addressing scholars. It is an open grab for the popular mind, for the mass media. Just as conservatives tend to view current events as the evil effects of secular humanism, so radicals line up televangelists, pro-life protesters, denominational disputes, and a growing conservative church as the evil effects of fundamentalism. The Jesus Seminar is not so much a work of scholarship as a tract for the times, an attempt to overthrow a perceived enemy.

The real irony is that, in some ways, the Jesus Seminar has itself become a parody of what it rejects. In tone and attitude, in its reductionism and self-confident exclusivism, in its self-righteousness and condescending pronouncements, it is more fundamentalistic than the fundamentalism it eschews.{34}

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Methodology of TJS

To understand TJS and its methodology it is necessary to understand the context of what has been called the “quest for the historical Jesus.”{35} An appropriate starting point might be the work of Reimarus, an eighteenth century deist whose unpublished 4,000 page manuscript was very influential on the early quest for the historical Jesus.{36} As popularized by Lessing, the primary thesis was that “the accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.”{37} In other words, it is not possible to establish truth (about Jesus or anything else) on the basis of history. It is an epistemological problem: how can we know Jesus and what he said? Lessing’s problem-his “ugly ditch”-is that no historical truth can be demonstrated.{38} The cleavage between faith and history is, in his own words, “the ugly broad ditch which I cannot get across, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap.”{39} Lessing was thus one of the first to drive a wedge between faith and history, producing a rift that has continued to widen throughout the intervening centuries. It would come to be known as the difference between the Jesus of history (largely an unknown, mythical person) and the Christ of faith (the focal point of Christianity-though not particularly or necessarily a person who lived in first century Palestine).{40}

The first quest for the historical Jesus is usually associated with the mid-nineteenth century publication of David Strauss’ Das Leben Jesu.{41} His basic thesis was that the Gospels could not be read as straightforward, reliable historical records of what Jesus did and said. The mythic element must be recognized. Truth regarding Jesus comes only by the application of historical critical methods. Although Strauss accepted the basic historical outline of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels, he argued that this framework was embellished by the early church’s imagination as they came to interpret OT prophecies in light of Jesus. It was the church which created the myths and legends about Jesus that resulted in the gospel portrait of him as a divine Messiah.{42}

The first quest came to an end with the criticisms of Johannes Weiss, William Wrede, and Albert Schweitzer{ }on the one hand and Martin K?ler{43} on the other. The criticisms of Weiss, Wrede, and Schweitzer did not relate to the historical critical methodology employed in the first quest, but to specific conclusions reached by the questers, particularly regarding the message of Jesus. Although the first quest portrayed a non-eschatological Jesus, Weiss, Wrede, and Schweitzer all argued that eschatology was indeed the key to Jesus and his message.{44} That the methodology of the first quest had missed this major theme of Jesus’ message cast serious doubts on the method itself.{45}

The second challenge was directed to the method of historical criticism. Martin K?ler’s writing attacked the methodology of the first quest (which he viewed as a “blind alley”{46}) in terms of the limits of historical inquiry: there is no certainty.{47} He contended (commendably) that the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith could not be separated; there is only one Jesus. He also argued that faith is not dependent on “Christological dogma” or on historical research. This was his way of rejecting both orthodoxy and negative criticism. He came to be known as a “mediating” theologian,{48} or a defender of a “critical pietism.”{49} He was more frequently allied with the “negative” than the “positive” critics of this period, however, since he rejected inspiration and inerrancy, considered the Gospels to be historically unreliable, containing pious legends and involuntary distortions (though trustworthy for faith), and textually uncertain since they were transmitted so carelessly.{50} He rejects an “authoritarian faith” bound to the Bible and argued that faith in a supra-historical revelation of Christ is not based on any authority; one believes because Christ evokes faith.{51}

K?ler’s exposition of the limitations of historical criticism was picked up by Bultmann (1884-1976), the most influential twentieth-century NT scholar, and came to characterize Jesus studies in the first half of this century. Based on form criticism and his “criterion of dissimilarity,”{52} Bultmann argued that the gospel records tell more about the Christian communities that produced them (and their antecedent forms) and the Sitz im Leben (“life situation”) of those early Christians than they did about Jesus as an historical person. Much of the material was mythological, thus his process of “demythologizing” the Gospels. This was not to remove the myth, but to translate it into myths meaningful to modern people. Historical information about Jesus is therefore minimal in content and not capable of proof, though the Christ of faith is nevertheless still accessible by faith.{53} Largely due to the objections of Weiss, Wrede, and Schweitzer, the methodological critique of K?ler, and to Bultmann’s influence, there was little attempt to continue the first quest for the historical Jesus.

The second quest for the historical Jesus (sometimes referred to as the “new quest”) began when a number of Bultmann’s students rejected their teacher’s pessimism regarding what could be known about Jesus. Particularly influential in the second half of this century have been Ernst K?emann, G?ther Bornkamm, Hans Conzelmann, and Norman Perrin.{54} The thrust of these questers was to discover Jesus through his preaching. The resulting picture of Jesus is that of “an existentialist philosopher whose presence in history was barely discernible behind the kerygma.”{55}

The “third quest”{56} is a term that is presently used rather loosely to encompass a very wide range of approaches to the study of Jesus. Brown suggests that the common thread that unites them is an emphasis on the Jewish background of Jesus, not only religiously, but also socially, economically, and politically.{57} TJS represents one part of this quest,{58} though actually only a small, radical fringe of the quest.{59} The principle that they share in common with the previous quests is that all data regarding Jesus is viewed as potentially untrue or mythical and therefore not historically accurate. Their task is then viewed as reconstructing the “real” Jesus by passing judgment on the reliability of the information and piecing together a restored portrait. The “historical Jesus” that results is differentiated from the Christ of faith.

In more specific terms, they assume{60} that the historical Jesus is to be distinguished from the gospel portraits of him. Knowledge of Jesus is based largely on oral tradition of his words (in contrast to his deeds) which is fluid and not very precise. This oral tradition was freely adapted and revised by the disciples as they saw fit to meet particular needs in their ministry. None of the Gospels were written by eye witnesses or based on eye witness testimony. The Gospel of Thomas is a new source of information about Jesus that is both earlier than and independent from the canonical Gospels. John’s gospel is the least reliable historically. Only a small portion of the Jesus sayings recorded in all these sources was really spoken by Jesus.

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Response to The Jesus Seminar

Academic perspectives

It is not the purpose of this paper to present a detailed critique of TJS, its methodology, or its conclusions. That has been done adequately elsewhere.{61} Painting with very broad strokes, the issues involved are essentially presuppositional. If the naturalistic assumptions of TJS are granted,{62} then the portrait of Jesus that results will vary only in degree from one study to the next.{63} If, however, scholarship is committed to an open universe,{64} to realism,{65} and to a belief in the reliability of language,{66} then naturalism is not an adequate explanation. If Scripture is inspired and inerrant, and therefore a reliable, divinely-revealed record that is true, then conclusions about Jesus will be vastly different from the naturalistic presuppositions that produce a naturalistic Jesus. They can do nothing else. This is not to insist on an uncritical, anti-intellectual, dogmatic, or narrow view of Jesus. It is a rejection of intellectual autonomy{67} and it does insist that any true view of Jesus must be in subjection to the Word of God as a revealed, authoritative text which is accepted epistemologically as the ultimate authority-an authority that establishes a priori limits for interpretation.{68}

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Relationship of faith and history{69}

Evans makes a good point when he observes that “the theatrics behind the Jesus Seminar may obscure the real problem: Can a person of intellectual integrity continue to take the story of Jesus that the Christian Church has traditionally recounted to be historical in its main outlines?”{70} This question arises repeatedly in discussions of all stages of the quest for the historical Jesus and deserves more specific comment. What is the relationship between faith and history? It is common to hear appeals to the necessity of distinguishing between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. This discontinuity is often employed by those who use historical-critical methods that result in skepticism regarding either the historicity of Jesus or at least of a substantial amount of biblical material regarding him. Bifurcating Jesus enables them to maintain what they consider historical objectivity and methodological consistency and yet at the same time continue to claim the name Christian.{71} Other approaches to the question of faith and history focus on demonstrating the historicity of Jesus and the sayings ascribed to him as a means of proving the validity of Christianity.{72} This is the methodological antonym of historical criticism for in this case the results of the study are what prove the truth of Christianity. Neither of these approaches are biblical.{73}

It should be said first that “an authentic link between Jesus of Nazareth and the exalted Christ is in fact theologically indispensable for Christianity…. For good or ill, the creed and credibility of Christianity remain irrevocably bound up with the person of Jesus of Nazareth.”{74} Without an historical Jesus who is also the Christ of faith there is no basis for Christianity. This is because faith must have an object. If there is no object that is or can be known, then there can be no faith.{75} This is not to say that Christian faith must be based on historical investigation-on the results of historical-critical scholarship. That is a quite different matter altogether.{76} The limitations, however, are the limitations of historical knowledge and method, not limitations of the Christian faith.

It might be asked if faith could be placed in a concept rather than in a tangible object. In light of the biblical “pisteuvein oJti…” (“to believe that…”), faith in a concept is a legitimate formulation, but the object of faith would still have to be true in order for this to be designated faith in any biblical sense. Since the biblical claim is that Jesus was a real, historical person who did certain things and was a certain kind of person, as an object of faith these claims must be true or Christianity is invalidated. The only real alternative is a system in which faith in Jesus is no different from faith in Santa Claus.{77}

The biblical claim is that Christianity is based on the specific historical events of the incarnation and the cross.{78} These are presented in Scripture as the essential foundations of Christianity and humanity’s relationship to God. If these events are only mythical (as Bultmann and many others argue), then several problems emerge. First, the cross work of Jesus becomes nonessential for salvation (since the “work” is not an actual historical event but only mythic). Salvation is therefore not based on what God has done-it becomes an anthropocentric rather than a theocentric redemption. Second, sin is de-emphasized. Rather than profound depravity, people are viewed optimistically as essentially good. But “the traditional understanding of the incarnational narrative implies that there is a real gulf between God and humans, and that in becoming incarnate God actually steps across this gulf and becomes one of us.”{79} Denying the historicity of these events transmogrifies Christianity into a radically different shape-so different that it ceases to be Christian.

A related issue in all of this is the matter of “historical certitude” that is often discounted by the Jesus questers. In these discussions that expression needs to be understood as referring to conclusions based on the non-revelatory, naturalistic historical study of the quest. In this regard, the claim of only probable truth is consistent with the presuppositions that produce it. In addition, “critical historiography” can say nothing regarding the meaning of an event precisely because its methodological presuppositions exclude any interpretation. To interpret the significance of these matters, revelation and narrative are needed, indeed, revelatory narrative{80} is necessary to understand the why-the significance of the events. The Bible is, to a large extent, a record of what God has done throughout history and an interpretation of that work. That fact in itself argues strongly that Christianity must be committed to history.{81}

Nor does historical probability (understood as “non-revelatory, naturalistic historical probability”) say anything about the reality of the events so described.{82} Because such evidence is not possible for some events does not mean that they are not real events. It means only that the naturalistic historian cannot accord them any degree of probability on the basis of his historical model and presuppositions. This assumption is known as historicism: the “restriction of reality to what can be demonstrated inside the closed continuum of cause and effect by analogical reason”{83} “The real Jesus” in the context of TJS refers only to an historically reconstructed Jesus who is not “real” in any sense of that term (except, perhaps, as a “real” product of scholarly imagination).{84}

The relationship of faith and history should also be viewed from the perspective of exegesis and authority. Without an objective authority/basis for faith, belief becomes an autonomous, existential, unsharable exercise of personal subjectivity.{85} Christianity has always been a “religion of the book.” The Bible has been the basis of creed and practice. Although there have been many false paths labeled “Christian” that have led away from that foundation, it has always been the authority of Scripture that has been employed to judge such attempts unorthodox. The quality and accuracy of biblical exegesis has also varied, but only an historical perspective enables any sort of qualitative judgment in that regard. This is due to the historical and cultural rootedness of Scripture. As Ziesler has pointed out, “for Christians the revelation of God was given definitively at a certain time in history, in a certain culture, and in a certain place. To understand that revelation properly, therefore, it is unavoidable to attempt to understand it ‘as it was then, there, and for those people’ before we can clearly say what it is now, here, and for us.”{86} Apart from this historical, grammatical, cultural perspective, faith has no basis. The only alternatives are the solipsistic vagaries of existentialism, pietism, or mysticism-all of which are more amenable to the ethos of postmodernity than that of biblical Christianity.

Perhaps the faith-history question should be phrased (to use what has become a set phrase in twentieth-century Christology): “Do we do Christology from above or from below?”{87} That is, do we begin with revelation or with the quest for the historical Jesus? From a biblical viewpoint, the answer should be obvious.

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Relationship to postmodernity

Is TJS a manifestation of postmodernity? The initial impression of this writer was that TJS was merely one more evidence of the world view known by the currently-popular buzz-word, postmodernity.{88}Although there are some parallels, it would appear that TJS is more properly viewed as the ultimate shape of modern Christology. The appropriate background is modernity, not postmodernity.{89} Carson describes these two approaches to Christology. “Modernism still believed in the objectivity of knowledge, and that the human mind can uncover such knowledge. In its most optimistic form, modernism held that ultimately knowledge would revolutionize the world, squeeze God to the periphery or perhaps abandon him to his own devices, and build an edifice of glorious knowledge to the great God Science.”{90} This seems closer to the tenor of TJS than the more pessimistic (epistemologically) views of postmodernity. At a later point in his book, Carson, though not naming TJS, presents the contrast as follows:

Contemporary Christologies that break from the central tradition of the church may be broken down into two kinds, admittedly sometimes overlapping. In the one kind, the writer seeks to bring to readers some fresh interpretation of what really happened, of who the historical Jesus really is, of how we should think of Christian origins. The assumption is that people have got it wrong, at least in part and perhaps fundamentally, and this writing will begin to sort it out and put matters to right. The task is judged interesting and important for its own sake. In the other kind, the explicit assumption is philosophical pluralism, or some variation of it, and then the writer asks what kind of Christology would be necessary, or what kind of changes would have to be introduced into traditional Christology, in order to fit the ‘given’ of that pluralism.”{91}

The first kind of Christology that Carson summarizes is the Christology of modernity-and TJS; the second is the Christology of postmodernity. There is a final authority and a truth claim to be found in TJS. As they search for the real Jesus, their ultimate authority is the historical critical method.{92} Although some TJS members may be pluralists, the seminar does not present this reconstructed Jesus as one system of truth among many equally valid (even if contradictory) approaches to knowing God. Their concern appears to be demonstrating a few shreds of historical fact about Jesus rather than presenting any form of truth that is to be believed in the modern world.{93}

The point at which TJS seems to approximate most closely the concerns of postmodernity is in their methodology which evidences a deconstructionist-type approach. Even here, however, the parallel is more apparent than real. Deconstructionism views textual meaning as arbitrary; indeed, meaning is quite independent from the text. They thus consider it proper hermeneutical method to abstract bits and pieces from a given text and place them into the interpreter’s own framework to create new meaning.{94} Although the patchwork efforts of TJS appear similar in some regards, it is done, not deconstructively, but form-critically. TJS is attempting to recreate the original Sitz im Leben of the texts in which they see the church creating the gospel record. Deconstructionists would have no regard for the original life setting of the texts.

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Ministry perspectives

There are two broad theological reasons for the open reception given to TJS by some. One relates to the culture of our postmodern society. It is not politically correct to pronounce any proffered system “wrong.”{95} Evans suggests that there are five components at this level that make non-historical approaches to Jesus attractive to many people: the appeal of an optimistic anthropology, the abolition of authority, the psychologizing of culture, the embracement of pluralism, and the appeal of the east.{96}

A second, related reason that TJS has found a favorable reception in some areas (and a lack of substantive objections in others) is that theology no longer has the place in society that it once had. Even in evangelical (indeed, fundamental) circles today theology is out and praxis is in. “Being practical now substitutes for being theological, for there is little left to theology except practice.”{97} In these circumstances, there is little that can be said about TJS other than, “I read the texts differently,” “My experience is that…,” “I don’t like it,” or, “It disrupts what I have always believed.” Too few people in the pew (and far fewer than should be the case in the pulpit as well) respond on any other level. The dearth of exegetical, theological, substantive content renders many popular responses to the radical claims of TJS rather anemic.{98} Substantive objections have come from some evangelical writers{99} as well as from critical scholars.{100} The critical scholars do not replace TJS’s laconic, anemic Jesus with an orthodox view,{101} but they do critique the methodology of TJS at a rigorous level.

Responding to TJS (and similar concerns) in a local church ministry must not be viewed as a list of “three easy steps” to solve the problem. Just as TJS did not appear overnight but is the culmination of centuries of progressive methodological skepticism, so the reply must be couched in a long-term perspective. Although it may be useful to present a series of studies on TJS in the local church, the more realistic treatment will involve a long-term series of inoculations. These immunizations must address underlying philosophical issues and provide a broad perspective on related issues. They will usually not be phrased in technical terminology (that is a matter for the Seminary classroom and the pastor’s study), but Joe and Sally Christian must understand the basic issues at their level. Several basic perspectives should be evaluated.

In the first place, God must be central in ministry. He is the one character who is conspicuously absent from many TJS discussions. There is much talk of Jesus, his humanity, and his place in the ancient world. There is not much discussion of God (either of Jesus as God or of God the Father). Piper observes that God will not usually be included on a list of the “perceived needs” of modern people, but that this is their greatest need. “Our people,” he says, “are starving for God.” He argues that “the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach. Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God. They need to behold the whole panorama of his excellencies.”{102} Yet in the world of postmodern values, God has become weightless-unimportant to our world. This is surely true in secular society, but it is true in Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches as well. “The traditional doctrine of God remains entirely intact while its saliency vanishes. The doctrine is believed, defended, affirmed liturgically, and in every other way held to be inviolable-but it no longer has the power to shape and to summon that it has had in previous ages.”{103} The cure, not just for the neglect of God fostered by TJS, but for the malise of God is not less preaching about him, but more preaching that exalts his supremacy.

Related to the need to reaffirm the centrality of God is its converse: to restore a biblical view of humanity. It is the contemporary emphasis (at least in the West) on the individual and his or her needs that has elbowed God out of the way. Consumerism is not only a driving force in American society, it is too often the driving force in the church as God is viewed as the Great Provider of My Needs. But as Wells points out, our need is “to convert our understanding of ourselves as consumers of inner experiences and things religious to an understanding of ourselves as moral knowers and actors.”{104} This is not easy to accomplish because it goes against the grain of everything contemporary culture teaches. Yet this is what must be undone. Only when the mind is remade in a biblical mold will God’s awesome character extend beyond a bumpersticker.

The second area that needs attention relates to how people can know God. The Word, by which God is known, must be central in every church ministry. It is too easy to assume that this is automatically the case in fundamental churches, but appearances are sometimes deceptive. It is easy to give lip service to Scripture without an integral biblical core of ministry philosophy. In such cases biblical authority is claimed, but at a superficial level. The fa?de has no depth or substance. In this regard, Johnson’s observations of fundamentalism as an outsider are a stinging rebuke of many churches.

The actual use of the Bible in conservative groups, however, is sometimes puzzling. Anyone who has spent many hours (as I have) in fascination at televangelists’ practicing their unique combination of religion and marketing knows that such preachers actually do very little real interpretation of Scripture. In this context, the Bible is less a text to be read than a talisman to be invoked. The fundamentalists’ claim to take the literal meaning of the New Testament seriously is controverted by their neglect of any careful or sustained reading.

What they take seriously are claims about the authority of the Scripture: its divine inspiration, its inerrancy, its holiness. But as a source of meaning, the text is rarely engaged. When texts are used at all, they are lifted atomistically from their contexts as adornment for a sermon or lesson that has not in any fashion actually derived from the text. Such a method (if it can be called such) of using the New Testament enables fundamentalists to make claims about inerrancy and noncontradiction in the Gospels, because they have never actually engaged the texts in a way that would enable some basic critical issues to emerge.{105}

The Word is not central when preaching employs the biblical text merely as a pretext to say what the preacher wants to say rather than being an exposition of the message that God intended in the passage. The Word is not central when the pastor’s study of the text is hurriedly based on a second-hand English text and a homiletical commentary, ignoring, scoffing, or minimizing a mastery of the biblical languages and the use of the technical tools of the trade.{106} When sermons focus on anthropocentric conerns (issues of self and its needs) rather than on theocentric ones, and when the content does not differ significantly from talks at social clubs, the Word is not central.{107} When the pastor spends more time caring for administrative or relational matters than he does studying and proclaiming the Word, the Word is not central. When church services become experience-centered performances in which every part is engineered to produce the desired response or feel rather than focusing on the exposition of the Word and the exaltation of God, the Word is not central.{108}

Third, Christians must understand the doctrines of Scripture (particularly revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, authority), God (truth, sovereignty, providence, creation), Christology (incarnation, deity, humanity) andman (origin, sin, noetics).{109} These areas, however, cannot be handled simply as abstract, topical sermons. They must be textually based (expository), related to the Bible’s narrative framework,{110} and relevant (set in a consistent world view and related to specific issues/situations).{111} The preacher dare no longer assume that his audience knows anything significant regarding the Bible.{112} As Carson puts it, “the Bible as a whole document tells a story, and, properly used, that story can serve as a metanarrative that shapes our grasp of the entire Christian faith. In my view it is increasingly important to spell this out to Christians and non-Christians alike-to Christians to ground them in Scripture, and to non-Christians, as part of our proclamation of the gospel. The ignorance of basic Scripture is so disturbing in our day that Christian preaching that does not seek to remedy the lack is simply irresponsible.”{113}

Fourth, when that preaching (or one-on-one conversation) relates directly to proclaiming the gospel message of forgiveness, the lessons of TJS are worth remembering. First, apologetics dare not be existential{114} nor evidential. Note that TJS argues evidentially by denying the evidence and then arguing apologetically backwards that the church has therefore been wrong about Jesus because the evidence doesn’t support the orthodox picture of Jesus. The solution is not to accept their method and show how it is wrong (though that could be done), but by challenging their fundamental presuppositions regarding authority. Presentation of the gospel should not be based on personal testimony of what God has done for the individual (though that may be included along the way). Instead ground your authority on the Scripture as the self-authenticating revelation from God and do not be ashamed to begin on that basis. Authority is not popular in the postmodern ethos, but despite such reactions by sinful people, it is still the power of the Word of God that changes lives, not existential experience. Although there should be sensitivity to the perspectives of a lost world in order to communicate clearly to them, the Word of God must dictate method and message, not unregenerate culture.

Fifth, do no attempt to “proof-text” a presentation of the gospel (or any other doctrine) with a pastiche of truth from all over the Bible.{115} That is what TJS does-with devastating results. To do so employs the same pasticco methodology and is subject to the same criticisms: constructing a subjective picture of the gospel according to a predetermined framework. That a Christian’s framework happens to be orthodox may save them from misleading people as to who Jesus is, but it can be easily by-passed methodologically. Even if it is not, it presents the gospel to people in a non-revelatory framework that misses much of the impact by extracting the message from the storyline that provides its significance. God may choose to bless despite the message being wrenched from its revelatory context (and indeed he often has), but that does not justify the method. Far better to follow the biblical narrative and set the message in its proper context, especially in a postmodern society that no longer has much (if any) knowledge of that framework. Methods that may have worked in past years (and that may still have some degree of “success” in some areas) will become increasingly unproductive in the years to come.{116}

Finally, there must be consistency between doctrine professed and praxis employed. Inconsistency between biblical perspectives and local church programs causes immeasurable harm in the long term. Santa Claus and the Easter bunny have no place in church programs.{117} Far too often “programs” are adopted with little consideration of their theological implications (praxis over doctrine!). As one illustration, a fundamental church which attempts to raise money for a building program by buying into a program developed in another ecclesiastical context is doomed for disappointment.{118} There must be theological and methodological consistency in local church ministries.

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“If the history of life-of-Jesus research teaches us anything, it is that the latest historical reconstruction of Jesus rarely proves very enduring.”{119} “Nothing is as fleeting as many of the latest trends in New Testament scholarship, including studies of the historical Jesus…. The historical Jesus and the Jesus that can be reconstructed by the historical-critical method are not one and the same. More to the point, the Jesus that is reconstructed by an idiosyncratic use of the historical-critical method or is based on reducing the field of focus to a few passages may have only minimal connections with the real Jesus.”{120} If it were not for the periodic media splash, TJS could be safely ignored as simply another ephemeral convulsion of a fringe of historical criticism. But until it passes, or until the media tire of colored beads, those in ministry will need to be aware of the issues involved. Even after this bout has worn itself out, the underlying issues will continue to exist, suggesting that the ministry response proposed in this essay will be relevant to other issues as well.

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Select Bibliography

Many additional works are cited in the text of the paper. The following are the key works that interact with TJS and the issues raised by their methodology or the contemporary cultural setting in which the issues must be addressed.
Boyd, Gregory A. Cynic Sage or Son of God? Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1995.

Brown, Colin. “Historical Jesus, Quest of.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 326-27. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992. [Cited as DJG.]

Carson, D. A. “Five Gospels, No Christ.” Christianity Today, 25 April 1994, 30-33.

________. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Clark, Gordon H. Historiography: Secular and Religious. 2d ed. Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1994.

Erickson, Millard. The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991.

Evans, C. Stephan. The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Krentz, Edgar. The Historical-Critical Method. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975.

Marsden, George. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. New York : Oxford University Press, 1996.

Meier, John. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1991-94.

Netland, Harold A. Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Noll, Mark. Between Faith and Criticism. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986.

Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

Smith, Barry D. “The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research, and the Christian Scholar.” Trinity Journal 15 ns (1994): 201-20.

Wells, David. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

________. No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Wilkins, Michael J. and J. P. Moreland, ed. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.


{1}The page has been compiled by the writer of this paper: <>. A few representative links of the two-dozen plus included there are noted in this paper.

{2}Examples include The Antichrist Page <> and The Muslim Homepage <>. [The specific page noted had disappeared at the time this document was prepared for the web and posted; the host site is linked here.]

{3}An enthusiastic popularizer of TJS may be found at <>.

{4}One of the better resource sites is < >. See also <>. The transcript of a recent email debate “Jesus at 2000,” between TJS spokesmen (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan) and a Roman Catholic critic (Luke Timothy Johnson) is available at <>.

{5}The 1996 Easter season yielded these articles: Jeffery L. Sheler, “In Search of Jesus,” US News and World Report, 8 April 1996, 46-50, 52-53; David Van Biema, “The Gospel Truth?” Time, 8 April 1996, 52-59; and Kenneth L. Woodward, “Rethinking the Resurrection,” Newsweek, 8 April 1996, 60-66, 68, 70.

Relevant articles from previous years include: Nancy Gibbs, “The Message of Miracles,” Time, 10 April 1995, 64-68, 70, 72-73; Ostling, Richard N., “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 38-39; Jeffery L. Sheler, “Who Was Jesus?” US News and World Report, 20 December 1993, 58-59, 62-66; Russell Watson, “A Lesser Child of God,” Newsweek, 4 April 1994, 53-54; and Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Death of Jesus,” Newsweek, 4 April 1994, 48-53.

{6}Woodward, “Death of Jesus,” 49.

{7}Gibbs, “Miracles,” 66, 68, 70.

{8}Watson, “Lesser Child,” 53.

{9}Van Biema, “The Gospel Truth,” 52.

{10}Sheler, “Who Was Jesus?” 62, 66.

{11}Representative of this approach would be Woodward, “Resurrection,” 60-70.

{12}Luke Timothy Johnson cites from a large number of newspaper articles in this regard (The Real Jesus [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996], ch. 1). A number are also linked on the web page referred to above. There have also been several (a number of?) television specials devoted to this matter. Since this writer remains one of those relics who has not yet found any redeeming value in owing a television (and has seen indications to the contrary), he is not able to document the matter first hand.

{13}Despite the press releases and the references in TJS publications to the plethora of scholars who comprise TJS, there are only a few well-known scholars in the group. These include Harold Attridge, Bruce Chilton, Roy Hoover, Lane McGaughy, J. Ramsey Michaels, and Daryl Schmidt. Other scholars who have written extensively and participated in what has been called the “Third Quest,” but who are not associated with TJS, include Raymond E. Brown, John P. Meir, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright. The best introductions to the work of all these men (TJS-affiliated and not) are Colin Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” inDictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [DJG], 326-27 and Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

{14}F. Blass and A. Debrunner, Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch, 9th ed. (G?tingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1954 [orig. published 1896]); English edition: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and ed. Robert W. Funk. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961. The current German edition is: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch, ed. Friedrich Rehkopf, 17th ed. (G?tingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990).

{15}SBL is the mainline association of (predominantly) critical scholars; membership numbers over 6,000.

{16}He explicitly compares himself to Luther.

{17}Funk’s words in these regards are cited in Sheler, “In Search of Jesus,” 48-49.

{18}Recent representative works include The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991); Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993); The Essential Jesus: Original Sayings and Earliest Images (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994). The jacket of The Historical Jesus boasts that it is “the first comprehensive determination of who Jesus was, what he did, what he said.” For a very different opinion, note the scathing review by Ben Meyers: “For my part, I find here little evidence to support this description [of Jesus as a Cynic social reformer], but I would not recommend redoing the book. As it stands it is as good as it will ever be. In all these 500 pages of impeccable political correctness there is hardly one badly turned sentence. It is delightfully readable, the pace rapid, the text filled with useful information on recent anthropology, on the ancient world’s social, economic, and political systems, on the Cynics, and so on. As historical Jesus research, it is unsalvagable. Not that a long historical struggle has turned out to have been in vain, for there are no signs here of any such struggle’s having taken place. Historical inquiry, with its connotations of a personal wrestling with evidence, is not to be found. There are no recalcitrant data, no agonizing reappraisals. All is aseptic, the data having been freeze-dried, prepackaged, and labeled with literary flair. Instead of an inquiry, what we have here is simply the proposal of a bright idea. But, as Bernard Lonergan used to say, bright ideas are a dime a dozen-establishing which of them are true is what separates the men from the boys” (CBQ 55 [1993]: 576).

{19}Sheler’s summary from “In Search of Jesus,” 52.

{20}The mystical sorcery of Carlos Caste?da (a disciple of the Mexican Indian sorcerer don Juan Matus) is specifically cited as influential in Borg’s study. For a summary of this system, known as Tensegrity, see <>. The second half of this web page includes an explanatory excerpt from Caste?da’s journal, Readers of Infinity: A Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, 1.1 (1996). The nature of Tensegrity as including magic, shamanism, and sorcery is explicitly acknowledged.

{21}This distinction is discussed later in the paper.

{22}Borg’s words, cited in Sheler, “In Search of Jesus,” 52.

{23}Smith summarizes the historical-critical assumption that underlies this point: “Since the biblical texts are not to be viewed as divinely inspired, it is axiomatic that the truth claims made by a biblical text be open to refutation.” In a note he cites Harvey to the effect that “the historican does not accept the authority of his witnesses; rather he confers authority upon them, and he does this only after subjecting them to a rigorous and skeptical cross-examination” (Barry D. Smith, “The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research, and the Christian Scholar,” Trinity Journal 15 ns (1994): 202). Smith (who is not a critical scholar) has written a valuable article. Unfortunately the second of his arguments against the historical critical method is flawed in that it is based on the assumption of a sensus plenior hermeneutic and explicitly allows for “unhistorical” interpretations (see his summary on 207). Those who reject this approach to interpretation (as this writer does) will not be able to employ the second half of Smith’s argument.

{24}Non-canonical sayings attributed to Jesus are sometimes referred to as the agrapha.

{25}Time magazine refers to the “purposeful theactricality” of the beads (Ostling, “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 39).

{26}Several variations of these four categories are given by TJS; one is as follows: “red, Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it; pink, Jesus probably said something like this; gray, Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own; black, Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition” (The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, ed. Robert W. Funk and Roy W. Hoover [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993], 36).

{27}Note that the second-century gnostic Gospel of Thomas is included on an equal level with the traditional, canonical Gospels. The published results of this stage of TJS’s work may be found in The Five Gospels.

{28}The one-page chart above includes every word that TJS is sure that Jesus really said with the exception of three parables-which are the only extended passages, comprising twenty-seven and a half verses. The text is TJS’s own translation.

{29}The Five Gospels, x.

{30}Van Biema, “The Gospel Truth?” 551. By “right-wing televangelists” Funk intends all fundamentalists, not just television preachers, though they are his most visible enemy. Evangelicals would also fit into this category since they also espouse an inspired Scripture.

{31}Crossan, as cited in Watson, “Lesser Child,” 54.

{32}Watson, “Lesser Child,” 54. Gibbs summarizes similar sentiments: “Since the mainstream press rarely covers the esoterica of New Testament criticism, [Funk] set an irresistible trap: he would gather ’eminent’ scholars, and they would put the events in the Bible to a vote.. . . The invitation to reporters [to cover the vote on the resurrection] promised that the experts ‘will be drilling close to the nerve of the Christian faith'” (“Miracles,” 70). For a fascinating evaluation of why the media has been so susceptible to the tactics of TJS, see Johnson, The Real Jesus, 76-79.

{33}Johnson, 74-75. It is fascinating to note Wells’ assessment that much of contemporary evangelical church leadership has followed a similar path (No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993)see ch. 6, “The New Disablers,” 218-57). Fundamentalism is not far behind in this regard. The professionalization (Wells’ term) of the ministry has been viewed as a means of attaining or regaining social status. This has resulted in the loss of a theological basis for ministry and an emphasis on management and (outward) success instead. In his own words, “It is my contention that the presence of this latter model [professionalization] in the Church goes a long way toward explaining the growing enfeeblement of the Church inwardly despite its outward growth.. . . The new direction should be understood mainly as a psychological reaction to the growing irrelevance of ministers in society” (218-19).

{34}D. A. Carson, “Five Gospels, No Christ,” Christianity Today, 25 April 1994, 33.

{35}The terms historical and historic are sometimes distinguished in Jesus studies. When the distinction is made (usually by German scholars: historisch and geschichtlich), historical refers to the objective facts about Jesus and historic refers to the significance of this information. Likewise the technical meaning of real when applied to a person (especially a person from ancient history, but also a contemporary) is more difficult to define than at first appears. For an extensive and helpful discussion, see John Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1991-94), 1:21-40. As used by the writer of this paper, the real Jesus refers to accurate, historical information about Jesus, including both what he said and did (the events ). The assumption is that the nearly exclusive source of such data (and the only fully reliable source) is the Bible-largely the Gospels, though not limited to that corpus. The contrasting assumptions of TJS and historical-critical scholars is discussed above.

{36}Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) is much less known than Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) who was the primary popularizer and publisher of Reimarus’ view of Jesus. Reimarus saw Jesus as a pious Jew who sought to establish the kingdom by calling his fellows to repentance. Eventually he came to believe that he could force God to move quicker in his kingdom plans by dying the death of a martyr, but he died forsaken by God and disillusioned. Only the creative ingenuity of the disciples in proclaiming a resurrection of Jesus and a coming kingdom salvaged Jesus’ work and enabled the development of a new religion. Both Jesus and the disciples were wrong according to Reimarus. (See the summary in Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” DJG, 326.) For a helpful overview of the rise of the historical method in general (i.e., not limited to the Jesus quest), see Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 6-32.

{37}”On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” in Lessing’s Theological Writings, 53, as cited in Millard Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 114; see also Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” in DJG, 326-27. In addition to Reimarus, other significant influences on Lessing included Gottfried von Leibniz and Benedict de Spinoza.

{38}For Lessing, there can therefore be no objective truth. Religion is not revealed but natural. Each individual views truth and religion differently-and it doesn’t matter. All religions are equally valid, containing both truth and error. It is therefore not necessary to make any historical statements about Jesus. Adjudicating competing truth claims is unnecessary; only the internal, subjective search for truth is important. (Cf. Erickson, Word Became Flesh, 112-17.)

{39}”On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” 55, as cited in Erickson, Word Became Flesh, 115. Lessing could not, or would not, make the leap. But, is there a ditch? Is it not far more likely that this was an imaginary ditch? One created in the unregenerate mind of a brilliant man who sought to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18)?

{40}The distinction between “the Jesus of history” and “the Christ of faith” (a concept characteristic of much 20th C. theology, e.g., Bultmann) is a phrase traceable at least to Martin K?ler’s Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtlishe, biblische Christus (Leipzig: Deichert, 1892; 2d ed., Munich: Kaiser, 1956); ET, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historical Biblical Christ, trans. C. Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), see 43-45 in particular. K?ler himself rejected the distinction as the title of his book intends to make clear: the “so-called historical Jesus” is the artificial portrait of Jesus found by the first “questers” in contrast to the “historical, biblical Christ.” “For K?ler . . . the biblical Christ is the historic Jesus” (Carl Braaten, “Introduction” to K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus, 14).

{41}David Friedrich Strauss, Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (Tubingen: Osiander, 1838-39); English translation: The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans. George Eliot (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973). Others involved in this first quest include F. C. Baur (1792-1860) of “the Tubingen School,” J. E. Renan (1823-1892), A. B. Ritschl (1822-1889), and Adolf Harnack (1851-1930). S?en Kierkegaard (1813-1855) might also be discussed at this point, but he is usually viewed as a philosopher rather than a NT scholar. He also argued that historical knowledge is irrelevant to faith. He had no interest in historical critical studies since history is only an occasion for encountering the transcendent. (Cf. Colin Brown, “Kierkegaard, S?en Aaby,” in New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 565-66 and Erickson, Word Became Flesh, 117-26.)

{42}See the summary of Strauss’ views in Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” DJG, 327-28.

{43}K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus.

{44}This does not mean that they believed Jesus’ message. Rather his eschatology was what was necessary to make sense of the gospel accounts-to make them credible history, not to be believed in the modern world. They agreed with Strauss’ views that much of the gospel record was embellished with church-created myth.

{45}For summaries of this stage of the quest see: Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” DJG, 331-33 and Witherington, The Jesus Quest, 9-11.

{46}K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus, 46.

{47}Ibid., 101-03.

{48}Carl Braaten, “Introduction” to K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus, 6.

{49}Meir, A Marginal Jew, 1:27. The reason for this designation is clear when one reads K?ler’s warm, almost devotional writing that contrasts so vividly with much of the dry, laborious, academic prose of his contemporaries. He was greatly influenced in his training by the “biblical realism” of the pietist Johann Beck (who escaped the impact of critical problems by appealing to “pneumatic exegesis”).

{50}K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus, 44, 48, 88, 90, 113-15, 138-41. Because he rejected the orthodox and the historical critics views of Jesus-yet accepted the critics’ methodology and conclusions regarding the Bible-he was forced to seek a mediating position. As Braaten summarizes his dilemma, “How can the Bible be a trustworthy and normative document of revelation when historical criticism has shattered our confidence in its historical reliability? And how can Jesus Christ be the authentic basis and content of Christian faith when historical science can never attain to indisputably certain knowledge of the historical Jesus? Underlying both of these questions is the existential quest of faith for a sure foundation, for what K?ler called an ‘invulnerable area’ (sturmfreies Gebiet)” (“Introduction” to K?ler, The So-Called Historical Jesus, 10).

{51}Ibid., 74, 87. It should be asked, of course, on what basis Christ evokes faith, since there is no other source of information on which to base this faith. From reading K?ler (only once!), this writer would conclude that he should probably be viewed as a precursor to neo-orthodoxy. Braaten’s introduction to the English translation is written from what appears to be a Lutheran neo-orthodox position, so the impression of K?ler may be overweighted in this regard. For a critique of K?ler’s system, see Gordon H. Clark, Historiography: Secular and Religious, 2d ed. (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1994)247-61.

{52}The “criterion of dissimilarity” says that a statement by Jesus is probably genuine if it contrasts in content and attitude with common Jewish thought. This became the mark (though not the only mark) of true scientific, historical criticism. TJS relies heavily on this criteria.

{53}Bultmann’s system is essentially existential; echoes of K?ler are clear at this point, although without his pietistic background. Although somewhat oversimplified, it does not seem too far afield to suggest thatKahler’s argument + form criticism + existentialism = Bultmann.

{54}Ernst K?emann, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” (1953 lecture which began the second quest; ET in his Essays on NT Themes [Naperville, IL: Allenson, 1964], 15-47); G?ther Bornkamm, Jesus von Nazareth(Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1956); ET, Jesus of Nazareth, trans. I. & F. McLuskey with J. Robinson. (New York: Harper, 1960); Hans Conzelmann, “Jesu,” in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tubingen: Mohr, 1957-62), published separately in ET: Jesus, trans. J. R. Lord, ed. J. Reumann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973); and Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (London: SCM, 1967). Two collections of essays are also important for understanding this stage of the quest: Kerygma and History: A Symposium on the Theology of Rudolf Bultmann, trans. and ed. Carl Braaten and Roy Harrisville (New York: Abingdon, 1962); and The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ: Essays on the New Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. and ed. Carl Braaten and Roy Harrisville (New York: Abingdon, 1964).

{55}Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” DJG, 337.

{56}Witherington, The Jesus Quest, 12; others question whether this will prove to be a satisfactory designation for the post-Bultmann period (Brown, “Historical Jesus, Quest of,” DJG, 337).


{58}The mainline quest is represented by the following diverse list of scholars (see ibid., 337-41, for bibliographic details): S. G. F. Brandon, Colin Brown, Bruce Chilton, James Dunn, David Flussner, Howard Clark Kee, Ben Meyer, C. F. D. Moule, E. P. Sanders, Grahm Stanton, and Gerd Theissen.

{59}It is interesting to note the opinion of the well-known scholar, Jacob Neusner (Univ. of S. Florida) that TJS is “either the greatest scholarly hoax since the Piltdown Man or the utter bankruptcy of New Testament studies-I hope the former” (quoted in Ostling, “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, 10 January 1994, 39).

{60}A detailed listing of the methodological principles and presuppositions of TJS may be found on the web at <>.

{61}From a conservative perspective, the two best book-length treatments in this regard are Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God? Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1995), and Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995). Witherington also has a chapter on TJS: “Jesus the Talking Head: The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar,” in The Jesus Quest, 42-57 (several other sections of the book are also relevant). Major critiques of either the entire TJS enterprise (Johnson, The Real Jesus) or of individual issues (Meier, A Marginal Jew) from mainline critical scholars have been noted above.

{62}TJS makes no pretense that it operates on other than a naturalistic basis. They explain: “The contemporary religious controversy. . ., turns on whether the world view reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith. Jesus figures prominently in this debate. The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo have dismantled the mythological abode of the gods and Satan, and bequeathed us secular heavens” (The Five Gospels, 2). This sentiment echoes Bultmann: “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world” (Rudolph Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. H. W. Bartsch, trans. R. H. Fuller [New York: Harper & Row, 1961], 5; the entire essay is worth reading as an exposition of naturalism). As D. A. Carson explains, “Funk himself, not to say the seminar his Westar Institute supports, is passionately committed to philosophical naturalism. Mere evidence will never overturn it; historical evidence can always be explained away” (“Five Gospels, No Christ,” Christianity Today, 25 April 1994, 33).

{63}In this regard it is interesting that the Jesus of Luke Timothy Johnson (the primary mainline critic of TJS) is probably closer in some respects to the TJS Jesus than he is to an orthodox view of Jesus. This is due to Johnson’s acceptance of a historical-critical approach to the study of Jesus.

{64}An open universe refers to a view of the universe in which the Creator can and does intervene in his creation; the supernatural is not to be ruled out. As Marsden puts it: “The supernatural and the natural realms are not closed off to each other. Christians who affirm that Jesus was not only human but also fully divine must presuppose that the transcendent God, the wholly Other, the Creator of heaven and earth, can appear and be known in our ordinary history” (George Marsden, “What Makes Scholarship Christian?” Books & Culture, Jan./Feb. 1997, 12; excerpted from the book The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship [New York : Oxford University Press, 1996]). This contrasts sharply with the closed universe of naturalism. For example, Bultmann argues that, “the historical method includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum of effects in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect.” Later he says that “this closedness means that the continuum of historical happenings cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural transcendant powers and that therefore there is no ‘miracle’ in this sense of the word” (Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann, trans. S. M. Ogden [New York: Meridian Books, 1960], 291, 292).

{65}As used here, realism refers to the belief that “the world enjoys an independent existence apart from its perception by humans, that essence precedes existence, and that mind is capable of perceiving existence beyond itself with at least some accuracy.” The implications of this view are that Kant’s conclusion “that the human mind is the determining element of ontology and ethics” is rejected, as is relativistic historicism (history writing is a form of imaginative literature), the skepticism of conventionalism in science, philosophical monism, and psychological determinism (Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism, 2d ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986], 146-47.)

{66}As the ICBI statement puts it, “We affirm that God who made mankind in his image has used language as a means of revelation. We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration” (Article IV of “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy).

{67}Robert Grant explicitly identifies reason as an “autonomous agent” in the “modern scientific study of the Scriptures” (The Bible in the Church [New York: Macmillian, 1960], 105-08, as cited by Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method, 7). Contrast this with B. Smith, “Historical-Critical Method,” 202-03. Smith also phrases this in terms of the noetic authority of Scripture (204, 215, 217-18). He makes what some would consider to be a bold statement: “Inevitably, therefore, one cannot be a Christian today without accepting the noetic authority of a set of texts as a necessary correlative of faith in Christ” (205-06). At the close of his article he says that “the Christian cannot do Jesus research on historical-critical principles. Regardless of the pressures of the academic world to conform to prevailing methodological standards, a Christian Jesus researcher ought to take the path of faith, even if this means loss of academic reputation or position” (220).

{68}This is confessedly a faith perspective (though not fideistic) that assumes ultimate authority is vested in God (known in and through his Word), not in man. No one has the right (nor the competency) to pass judgment on God-to put God in the dock. An adequate, transcendent, epistemological pou sto is necessary to have absolute truth. Depravity has rendered the human cognitive capacity incapable of judging truth claims. Thus the ultimate starting point, the ultimate presupposition, must be assumed; it cannot (by definition) be proven. The Christian’s self-evidencing, transcendental starting point must be God himself. No other starting point is adequate as a basis for a satisfactory world view or for absolute truth. For a brief discussion of this matter, see Greg Bahnsen, A Biblical Introduction to Apologetics (Placentia, CA: SCCCS, 1973), 41-42. For more detailed discussions, see the other writings of Bahnsen as well as Cornelius Van Til and John Frame.

If the objection is raised that this approach leads to gridlock, it may be observed with Clark that “the only personal solution to this logical impasse is a change of heart on the part of one of the contestants. Agreement can be obtained only by one party’s repudiating his premises and accepting the other’s presuppositions. One of them must be converted. One must be regenerated. One must be born again. And the change is something logic cannot do. God alone is able” (Historiography, 337). This may seem defeatist to some, but it appears to be the only conclusion that harmonizes with a biblical anthropology and hamartiology-and the resultant epistemology.

{69}This is the writer’s first forray into the subject (at least so far as committing his thoughts to paper) and he is under no delusion that the following brief summary is adequate to touch, even if briefly, all the issues involved, let alone to resolve them. There is an enormous literature on the subject and these few paragraphs barely scratch the surface. It is a tentative sketch that may help raise some of the issues involved in TJS. John Lawlor has recently pointed me to an additional resource that has not been included in this paper due to time constraints: John H. Sailhammer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), esp. ch. 3, “Text or Event,” 36-85 (ch. 4 is also relevant). The focus is OT rather than the Gospels, but the issues discussed are fundamental to both. Another work referred to there is also relevant: Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1974).

{70}C. Stephan Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), vi.

{71}Some, of course, have no desire to claim the name Christian, being content to use “the Christ of history” as a convenient sociological designation of what has motivated people who are Christians.

{72}A classic statement of this may be found in John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past: An Introduction to Philosophical Historiography, History in Christian Perspective, 1 (Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards, 1962): “Christian interpretations of history have great appeal, but are ultimately disregarded because they are believed to rest on ‘values inaccessible to science’. . . It is the conviction of the present writer that the Christian world-view is in fact ‘accessible to science’ and rests upon an objective foundation which will stand up under the most exacting criticism. . . . On what, then, does the case for Christianity rest? It rests . . . on the objective, historical truth of the resurrection” (138). Montgomery is right that there is valid, objective content in Christianity, but it is not the verification of this by criticism that proves Christianity true. (It is likely that many such claims would not stand up under “the most exacting criticism” of the historical critical method, not because they are not true, but because historical criticism loads the deck presuppositionally against non-naturalistic explanations.) This puts the proverbial cart in front of the horse. It is rather that because Christianity is true it is therefore historical.In a more popular rendition, this principle may be stated as follows: It is not that the Bible is proven true because prophecy is fulfilled, but rather that prophecy is fulfilled because the Bible is true. This does not mean that it is a matter of wishful thinking-the wave of a magical wand that makes such things true, but rather the believer, accepting the Scripture as his or her ultimate authority, is confident that the things which the Bible says are therefore true. Any other conclusion denies the authority of Scripture making it less than one’s ultimate authority.

{73}Evans summarized four general approaches to the question: defend the biblical account as traditionally understood by the church, reject both the biblical account and Christianity, revise the biblical account and Christianity, or divorce the meaning of the biblical account from its historicity (The Historical Christ, 27, see also his discussion of these four options: 28-46).

{74}Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus: Martyr, Lord, Messiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 167. Ziesler echoes this statement: “Christianity is an historical religion, that is to say, that it would quickly wither away if it were shown that Jesus never existed, or that he was substantially different in character from the New Testament portrait of him . . . . If these claims were to be made good, then the whole of Christianity would become highly suspect” (“Historical Criticism and a Rational Faith,” Expository Times 105 [1994]: 270).

{75}Cf. the discussion by Clark, Historiography, 250-52. He comments that “to believe is to believe something. It may be the efficacy of pickles or the efficacy of Christ; but no one ever just believes-period” (252).

{76}As Clark puts it, “Christian confidence cannot be based on historical investigation. Let us admit this and insist on it. Research is always provisional, even if new sources of knowledge concerning Jesus Christ are most unlikely to appear.” A bit later he says, “if history is admitted to be uncertain, then the Christian cannot base his faith on archaeological discoveries. Quite true” (Ibid., 257). John Lawlor makes a similar point in regard to the use of archaeology (“Archaeology and Biblical Studies,” Baptist Bible Expositor, 1.4 [fall 1990], 4).

{77}People (especially young children deceived by misdirected adults) do believe in Santa Claus despite his mythical, fictitious nature. Some might suggest that Christianity is no different: people believe something that is not true. This only emphasizes the point being made above: there must be a genuine historical basis for faith. Apart from it there would be no Christianity. (There are a few other theoretical explanations that attempt to avoid a historical basis for faith; for a summary and critique, see Evans, The Historical Christ, 69-72.)

{78}There are other essential historical events in Scripture (e.g., creation), but these two are the most directly relevant to the issue at hand.

{79}Evans, The Historical Christ, 69-70.

{80}In regard to revelatory narrative (my term, by which I refer to a divinely interpreted account that provides a framework or grid against which an event or statement may be understood), see Johnson’s good discussion of the importance of narrative in presenting an adequate understanding of the character of Jesus (The Real Jesus, 152-58); also Wells, No Place for Truth, 270-82; and Carson’s chapters five and six (The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 193-314). It is also similar to what Evans calls “incarnational narrative” (The Historical Christ, 2ff).

{81}Cf. Ziesler, “Historical Criticism,” 270. He notes that the eschatological elements of Scripture are also related to historical concerns, though to the end of history rather than to its past.

{82}See Johnson, The Real Jesus, 133, for a good summary. Johnson’s own historical skepticism is, however, evident (e.g. 108f). He opts for church acceptance/authorization of diverse and disagreeing (i.e., inconsistent, contradictory-though he doesn’t use those terms) gospel records in contrast to Marcion who rejected everything inconsistent with his theological view and Tatian, who harmonized all four Gospels into one account. They are “normative . . . in all their diversity” (148). That is, we can have contradictory accounts that are normative for faith (since the church determines what is true, using these fallible sources as guides?! Note this Roman Catholic scholar’s dependence on the magisterium here.) Johnson rejects any historical basis for Christianity and argues instead for a strictly religious basis, viz., “religious claims concerning the present power of Jesus.” “The only real validation for the claim that Christ is what the creed claims him to be . . . is to be found in the quality of life demonstrated by those who make this confession.” These claims “can be validated only existentially by the witness of authentic Christian discipleship” (133ff).

{83}Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method, 56 n. 2. This necessitates “the exclusion of God as a causative factor and in the denial of the possibility of miracle” (58). Pure historicism is less common in the philosophy of history today than it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but it is by no means dead-TJS seems to have imbibed a great deal of it.

{84}Ibid., 167. “Scientifically speaking, this past century of scholarship has confirmed that the ‘purely’ historical, non-christological Jesus remains hidden from view. He is in any case best seen as a figment of the post-Enlightenment imagination. But what we must equally recognize is that for those who first saw him and were called by him, Jesus of Nazareth and ‘the historic biblical Christ’ of their faith were one and the same person” (Bockmuehl, This Jesus, 23).

{85}Krentz summarizes the problem with Bultmann at this point: his “existential canon makes the conceptual world of the interpreter the criterion of truth in the Scriptures. History is in danger of being interiorized and psychologized. Such history does not really need the past” (The Historical-Critical Method, 31).

{86}Ziesler, “Historical Criticism,” 274.

{87}Erickson, The Word Became Flesh, 626.

{88}For an overview of postmodernity, see John Jelinek, “Why Be Moral? The Contradictions of Postmodern Morality in America,” faculty forum paper, Baptist Bible Seminary, 6 December 1996. For an invaluable, massive, book-length treatment, see D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). For a more diverse perspective, see David S. Dockery, ed., The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1995).

{89}Jelinek summarizes five key tenets of postmodernity: “1) Absolute truth is either non-existent or invalidated (non-verifiable). 2) Human rational capacities (reasonings) are culturally bigoted (and, therefore, non-objective). 3) Human language itself is also an insufficient medium for communicating truth. 4) Every paradigm has a logic of its own. Readers must construct their own meaning. 5) Finally, it falls to each culture to construct truth that is truth for itself” (“Why Be Moral?” 14-15).

{90}Carson, Gagging of God, 21.

{91}Ibid., 316.

{92}Technically, this amounts to an ultimate authority claim oforhuman autonomy or the human intellect.

{93}Or their concern may be to deny biblical truth as having any normative value than it is to affirm some limited part of it, namely the humanity of Jesus (Clark, Historiography, 248, referring to K?ler’s evaluation).

{94}For brief summaries and evaluations of deconstructionism, see Carson, Gagging of God, 21, 72-77 and Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 380-85. (Carson provides more extensive interaction with deconstruction and postmodern hermeneutics in chapters two and three of his book.)

{95}See the perceptive chapter “On Drawing Lines When Drawing Lines Is Rude,” in Carson, Gagging of God, 347-67. A helpful treatment of pluralism will also be found in Harold A. Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

{96}Evans, The Historical Christ, 73-78.

{97}Wells, No Place for Truth, 112.

{98}There are surely exceptions to this statement, but the point here is that the popular impact has been exacerbated by the pluralism and relativism of our culture.

{99}For example, Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God?; D. A. Carson, “Five Gospels, No Christ,” Christianity Today, 25 April 1994, 30-33; and Wilkins & Moreland, ed., Jesus Under Fire.

{100}Johnson’s The Real Jesus is one example.

{101}In this regard, see Meier’s two-volume, A Marginal Jew. Already at 1,600 pages, a third volume (and perhaps a fourth) is in preparation. See the author index s.v. the main TJS personalities for interaction with their theories. Another major study of Jesus by a critical scholar is Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1993); and The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1994). Both Meier and Brown are Roman Catholic scholars.

{102}John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 11. This small book makes an urgent and important plea that the pastor would be wise to heed.

{103}David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 89.

{104}Ibid., 114.

{105}Johnson, The Real Jesus, 63. Wells echoes some of these same concerns: No Place for Truth, esp. 250-57.

{106}This is not to denigrate the ministry of those who have never had the opportunity to study the languages. It is intended as a rebuke to those who have had the advantage of such training and who then abandon such tools due to misplaced priorities in ministry, assuming that matters other than their handling of the Word are more important. Although other matters may appear to be more urgent, they are seldom more important.

{107}Wells’ evaluation of contemporary preaching in this area is striking. Based on a survey of published sermons by those who believe the Bible to be the Word of God, he found that “less than half are explicitly biblical” and over 80% were anthropocentric. Less than 20% were “grounded in or related in any way to the nature, character, and will of God” (No Place for Truth, 252).

{108}This is not the place to indulge in a lecture on preaching, but it might be suggested in passing that it would do many pastors well to periodically read and reread some of the better books on preaching. On that list this writer would include John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), John MacArthur, ed., Rediscovering Expository Preaching (Dallas: Word, 1992-though some sections of this book [esp. ch. 17] need to be updated with a more balanced view of the biblical langauges, such as Mois? Silva, God, Language and Scripture [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990]), and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971).

{109}This representative list is not intended to elevate certain doctrines above others, but to suggest several areas that are particularly crucial in relation to TJS.

{110}Carson emphasizes this with reference to what he calls the “plotline” or “metanarrative” of Scripture (Gagging of God, ch. 5-6).

{111}”Relevant” must be understood in light of Carson’s warning that relevance can too easily become “kitsch” (ibid., 470-80).

{112}There are still some people who have grown up in Bible-preaching churches, but they are progressively becoming a smaller minority. This varies in different parts of the country; the “Bible-belt” and rural areas may be moving in this direction less rapidly than urban and suburban areas.

{113}Ibid., 194.

{114}Contra Johnson, The Real Jesus, 141-44. Even Krentz’s proposal for certainty contains a considerble element of the subjective and existential at this point: “Historicism has falsely taught that one should accept as true and believe only what can be established by positivist, rational proofs. But the believing critic knows ‘that there is truth which must not be deomnstrated by historical proofs,’ for then it disappears. Criticism . . . makes us hear the biblical proclamation as the first Christians did-without any security outside of the proclamation that confronts us with its demand for believing response-and this alone gives certainty to faith” (The Historical-Critical Method, 67).

{115}Osborne illustrates this same problem in the context of group Bible studies, showing the similarities with a deconstructionist hermeneutic that ignores the context and historical background of the text (The Hermeneutical Spiral [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991], 384).

{116}Jim Eaton’s plea in this regard at the recent BBS missions conference was very well stated and much appreciated.

{117}It seems unnecessary to say, but it is somewhat amazing to me the instances of well-intentioned paganism in local churches at the holiday season. Why, e.g., would any Sunday School teacher give his or her students chocolate Easter bunnies on Easter Sunday? This, and many other such holiday foolishnesses, contradict the message that is (or should be!) proclaimed. If I may indulge in a personal illustration, a grandmother in the church that I pastored in Michigan was shocked one Easter to be asked by her granddaughter (junior high age), “When are you going to tell me the truth about Jesus? You told me the Easter Bunny was real; you told me that Santa Claus was real. What about Jesus? Is he real? Or is he just like them?” Although saddened, I was not surprised, for I had observed the paganism of far too many professing Christian families.

{118}This writer was involved for a short time on the staff of such a church which constantly “bought programs” and sponsored seminars to cure church problems. One such effort in fund raising was predicated on the assumption that church membership would be much larger than typical Sunday morning attendance. The theological implications of a regenerate church membership was never considered by the local church leadership nor by the “stewardship consultant” (from “another tradition”) that was hired.

{119}Carson, Gagging of God, 316.

{120}Witherington, The Jesus Quest, 247.