Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ.
But which one? After reading a recent
Christian Century article by Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt and blogging about it semi-coherently and perhaps heretically here, I got to wondering who this Jesus is that I profess to believe in. Specifically, I was wondering whether I believe in the man Jesus who lived 2000 years ago, or in the Jesus that the Christian tradition has professed and preached for 2000 years (assuming that there is at least some distinction).
I really like how Derek articulates the issue. In response to my post, Derek wrote:
I guess where it really comes down for me is this: are we looking for
information about a historical figure in the past–or are we learning
about a relationship with a living, dynamic being, who swoops up on us
and shocks us with his love? Fundamentally, are we asking about the dead
or the Living? If we believe that Christ is strongly and powerfully
alive, then it changes the whole framework for how we shape the
questions. As I see it, an undeniable part of what t means to be
Christian is learning about how the relationship unfolded with our
spiritual ancestors. If we really believe that the Church is the Body
of Christ in more than just a metaphorical sense, then we must learn
our history as part of learning about who he his. We must look for his
face in the faces of the saints–then and now.
I believe in the Jesus that was preached to me and taught to me, a Jesus that the Christian community has come to understand not just from three years of itinerent ministry 2000 years ago in Galilee, but from the ongoing presence of Christ in the body of believers and the guiding of the Holy Spirit for 2000 years since the cross. That’s why I wrote in my previous post:
Do we believe in the Jesus of history, or in the Jesus of tradition?
For better or worse, we believe not in a Jesus of historical account,
but in a Jesus that we’ve learned about via a biased, faith-filled
tradition. I need to take seriously the faith of those who wrote the
books of the New Testament and those who assembled it nearly 300 years later. I
need to take seriously the Roman Catholic and Reformation traditions
also, as they have been stewards of the faith and witnesses to me.
Faith is a living, breathing, morphing and evolving beast. To reduce
belief and practice to an analysis of a few ancient texts is to lose
the riches and depth of the tradition, and deny the work of the Body of
Christ and the Holy Spirit over nearly 2000 years.
This is not to say that the history, culture and religion of the man Jesus is not relevant – not at all – but they are only part of what we know about Jesus. The Jesus of the martyrs, the Church Fathers, the creeds and councils, the mystics, the saints, the reformers, the workers for justice of every age – this multi-faceted, multi-layered, constantly self-revealing Jesus – these too, along with the Jesus of history and the Gospels, are Jesus, the Jesus in whom I believe, trust and hope.