Saturday, January 19, 2008


Some want to engage Jesus in their own ideas. Others call that “dangerous” and want their present ideas of history to preserve him (as my mother preserves the figs falling from her tree in glass jars, I suppose).

For example,

“WWJD? What would Jesus do? Would he encourage or prohibit women from having authority over men? In the work place? In universities? In Bible schools? In Christian colleges? In synogogues? In the church? In parachurch organizations, such as missionary groups? / Why or why not? / Remember, be nice to each other; it's the biblical thing to do.”

Similarly, Dr. Sam Lamerson of Knox Theological Seminary in Florida ask about “Jesus’ Use of Comedy to Combat Religious Errors”:

“In his talk Dr. Lamerson will examine Jesus' use of comedy (in the Aristotelian/Aristophanic sense) as a tool for exposing the political or religious errors of his day. Dr. Lamerson will show that Jesus did indeed engage in the use of comedy. After defining comedy, Jesus’ use of this tool in parables, short sayings, and actions will be pointed out and examined for principles that might be transferable to the Christian combating errors in the public square today.”

So before we go on to those seeing this engagement as dangerous, do you see what these engagements of Jesus are doing? Do you notice the extra-Jesus appeals to “the biblical thing”? And can you imagine that I got quite excited to hear that some expert is claiming that a political religious Jesus applies the comedy that Aristotle uses in examinable principles that Christians today can use as weapons? (On the latter, I’ll have to ask the one on my dissertation committee who did his dissertation on humor in Aristotle’s rhetoric.)

Now, beyond the Jesus tangled up in our ideas is the Jesus preserved in our dangerous history jar.

For example, Loren Rossen relays this from William Arnal:

“If a Greco-Roman sage can be pressed into secular service, or used to validate liberal Christianity, a Jewish prophet serves more oblique agendas: insulating Christianity against anti-Semitism while, paradoxically, able to reinforce Christian supersessionism at the same time. In either case, says Arnal in The Symbolic Jesus, the figure of Jesus becomes a screen on which to project contemporary debates rather than a subject of genuine historical inquiry. The invective from both sides of the debate proves it. The Hellenized Jesus has even been denounced as an implicit (if unintentional) resurrection of the Aryan Jesus of Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Jesus gets panned, in turn, as a patronizing stereotype of modern Jews. Arnal's dangerous idea is that none of this matters. Even if Jesus turned out to be a Nazi's fantasy, a "pure Aryan", it would be irrelevant, because we don't need Jesus to serve as a precedent for us in today's world.”

And Rossen also agrees with this from Andrew Criddle:

“Jesus and Paul have more to offer women than many of the orthodox are comfortable with, but the idea has been way overblown. We know Jesus was publicly involved with women; that Paul got women active in the church (Phoebe was a deacon; Prisca helped with his Gentile mission). But none of this has anything to do with egalitarianism on Jesus' part. Ideas about social equality originated with the Enlightenment and were first put into practice with the American and French revolutions. Jesus maintained a hierarchy in which he stood at the top, twelve special men stood below him, and others below them in turn, some of whom, yes, included women. Oppressed women would have naturally found his apocalyptic message attractive, where there would soon be a reversal of fortunes. Jesus and Paul made more room for women than many in their age. But that's not saying too much by our standards.”

But then there’s Albert Molher turning to Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace to preserve Jesus in the jar of history another way:

“The most hard-core forms of postmodern thought are generally limited to academic campuses, but the postmodern worldview is trickling down in various forms to the popular level. While postmodern literary theorists debate the meaning of ‘totalizing metanarratives,’ at the level of popular piety we see the widespread substitution of ‘spirituality’ for biblical Christianity. / In this sense, spirituality is a project centered in the self and constantly negotiable -- more about ‘meaning’ than truth. / Biblical Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. Thus, Jesus does not need to be ‘humanized.’ / Christianity and Jesusanity tell two different stories and represent two very different faiths. As Bock and Wallace explain: Both of these stories afford Jesus a great deal of respect, but they are very different stories in regard to his importance. Jesusanity fits the postmodern mind and the postmodern mood, but it cannot save. We really do not know what Christianity is if we do not also understand what it is not.”

So, for Rossen, “we don't need Jesus to serve as a precedent for us in today's world,” not for race or for religion or for our post-Jesus Enlightenment standards. Likewise for Mohler, we don’t need Jesus for humanization or for the meaningful postmodern moodiness of Jesusanity. Yeah, I know Rossen and Mohler do stuff Jesus into history very very differently. But don’t you think they do a fine job, both of them, of engaging objectively Aristotle’s binary to keep the past Jesus pure in the present?

(My mom adds sugar to her fig preserves, but hey they do have a consistent taste I’ve grown to love, and they look beautiful, and last practically forever). (Un)fortunately, Jesus was no Aristotle (despite how biblical or humorous or racially motivated or gender-observing or “truth-telling” Aristotle was). No, Jesus comes to us through fragile humanized translation (albeit in Aristotle’s mother tongue) and then in what we’ve come to know as hyperbole and parable and miracle (more like my daughter’s spanish language translation of Harry Potter than like her physics textbook). So, I'm wondering if Woody Allen's Frederick in “Hannah and Her Sisters” wasn't smart to say: “If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up. So, can't we stop? Can't we start wondering whether we’re stuck today with our dichotomous (aka our Aristotelian) ways of translating (ησος)?

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