The Real Jesus

I just got done reading Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.  I began it back in January, but I find that my lifestyle right now doesn’t lend itself to providing sustained periods I can dedicate to reading.  So I read this book five pages here, twenty pages there, before falling asleep on the train or as I fell asleep in bed at night.  Back in college and seminary I was able to sit down and, in a few days, read a book.  Not these days.

I can’t offer any significant or deep words about this book tonight, but as I read on the train today, these words struck me:

The most destructive effect of the Jesus Seminar and recent Historical Jesus books has been the perpetuation of the notion that history somehow determines faith, and that for faith to be correct, the historical accounts that give rise to it have to be verifiable.

But this is simply not true . . .

Christian faith is directed to a living person.  The "real Jesus" for Christian faith is the resurrected Jesus, him "whom God has made both Lord and Christ" (Act 2:36).  And since Christians understand by the resurrection not simply a resuscitation of Jesus’ body but his entry into God’s own life (symbolized by his "enthronement at the right hand of God" – Acts 2:34), which is manifested in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit among believers ("Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out this which you see and hear" – Acts 2:33), the real Jesus for Christian faith is not simply a figure of the past but very much and above all a figure of the present, a figure, indeed, who defines believers’ present by his presence. (pgs 141-142)

. . .

The more the church has sought to ground itself in something other than the transforming work of the Spirit, the more it has sought to buttress its claims by philosophy or history, the more it has sought to defend itself against its cultured despisers by means of sophisticated apology, the more also it has missed the point of its existence, which is not to take a place within worldly wisdom but to bear witness to the reality of a God who transforms suffering and death with the power of new life. (page 168)

More thoughts on this later.  Gotta go play Beauty and the Beast with the Big Girl.  Good night.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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2 Responses to The Real Jesus

  1. Andy says:

    I read The Real Jesus a couple of years ago, and I remember being very impressed with Johnson’s approach. It’s so much better than the knee-jerk, defensive “it-is-so-all-true” reaction you hear so often against the Jesus Seminar.
    Ironically, I really saw what the gospels are while reading Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Buddha. Hearing other people’s faith stories, it was easy to see what they were without all the complications of wanting to defend the faith.

  2. *Real Jesus* is a great book; it taught me a lot about how to think about the role of the guild of academic biblical scholars in relation to the life of the Church. I think of it as Johnson’s negative book on Jesus–here he says what not to do. It’s properly balanced with *Living Jesus* which is his positive book which tells you what to do. I won’t prejudice you by pointing out things about it; I’ll wait till you post your review…

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