Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jesus "within history"

The Preaching of Jesus: Gospel Proclamation, Then and NowThe many quests for the historical Jesus, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out more than a century ago, usually end up with a Jesus that looks like us or at least thinks like us.  Therefore, you have the radical Jesus, the revolutionary Jesus, the liberationist Jesus, the Gentle Jesus, the divine Jesus and the oh so human Jesus.  Critical scholarship has helped us uncover much about Jesus that is helpful, especially in the ways in which it puts Jesus into context.  But at the end of the day we don't have a full picture of Jesus.   We have four (or more if you move beyond the canonical texts) accounts, which at points agree with each other, and at other points do not. 

William Brosend, whom I quoted in an earlier post, writing for preachers primarily, suggests in The Preaching Of Jesus, that this idea of the "historical Jesus" isn't all that helpful.  Thus, he posits a "Jesus within History."  This is, more recoverable, less definitive, recognizes the distinction between the biblical witness and the historical, and ultimately more helpful to the preaching task.  He writes:

The former formulation ["Jesus within history'] admits to a distinction between the biblical and historical without claims to whole or simple truths.  All believers have to varying degrees, some idea or a set of ideas about who Jesus was and is for them.  This is espeically true for preachers.  To speak and write of Jesus "witnin history" is to make explicit that understanding without making claims for Jesus "as he actually was," which is unrecoverable reality from a historical perspective, and not necessarily a helpful one from a homiletical perspective.  (Brosend, p. 3).
One of the concerns Brosend has is that we've blunted our messages because we've not paid attention to how Jesus is depicted in Scripture, and more specifically how he is depicted as a preacher.  This is what he seeks to recover -- not the Jesus that can be somehow recovered historically underneath the layers of interpretation, but the Jesus who is depicted in the Synoptics, preaching the reign of God.


John said...

On the surface of it the writer appears to be making a rather simple proposal that we embrace the Biblical witness and abandon historical analysis - kind of like saying: 'the Bible says what it means and means what it says.' If I am reading your description accurately it seems to be pushing a rather wooden interpretational approach.

Perhaps you could clarify the difference between the Jesus as understood from the "historical" witness and from the "Biblical" witness, and just how both of these differ from the proposed Jesus 'within history,' which you have described as "depicted in Scripture."


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


He's not suggesting we abandon the historical conversation, and Marcus Borg writes the foreword to the book. What he's saying is that ultimately we can't recreate the "historical Jesus." What we can do is seek to understand how Jesus has been depicted and see that in the context of what we know of the historical context. History still plays an important role, but ultimately we must wrestle with the Jesus presented to us by the gospels, not our various recreations.