Who is Jesus? What does history tell us? What does faith require of us? Oh, there are a few folks who would say that Jesus never existed -- but they are few in number. But, there are significant questions that bedevil both scholar and non-scholar, believer and non-believer. One of the problems is that folks tend to absolutize (or at least sound as if they're absolutizing) their viewpoints.
As a preacher I am called to proclaim the gospel of the reign of God, a gospel both preached and lived by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is, for the preacher the focus of preaching, but according to William Brosend, a preaching professor at the School of Theology at Sewanee, Jesus can be our model of preaching. Before I get to the preaching of Jesus, it would be important to look at the question of Jesus' identity.
Brosend speaks of a contrast between the "historical Jesus" and the "Jesus within history." He prefers the latter, because it allows us to break free of unfortunate pursuit of a precise definition of Jesus' identity. He writes of our dilema in the current debate:
As soon as someone says, "the historical Jesus," someone else says "the Christ of faith"; then the debate, at least since Bultmann, is on. As far as I have been able to tell, it rarelyk gets anywhere. Because the distinction, and many others like it (Borg's "pre" and "post"-Easter Jesus, for example), are overwhelmed by the formulations, and by the implications read into them by frequently unsypathetic audiences. What was intended as a designation for the sake of precision becomes a label for use in political/religious/theological debates. The "historical jesus" was, in the foundational uses by those engaged in the renewed quest, meant to disgtinguish at least the following: Jesus as he could be known from multiply attested sources, biblical and otherwise (Crossan); Jesus as he could be known "scientifically" by reliable and otherwise (Wright and Meier); jesus as he can be known to believers before and after Easter (Borg); Jesus as he "really" was (Johnson).
Brosend admits that these are characterizations, but he means this not in a polemical way, but instead, wants to underline the problem that exists when the conversation moves from "the 'real' Jesus to the 'only' Jesus, when reconstructions of Jesus of within history are presented as historical and/or biblical absolutes, that a line has been crossed" (William Brosend, The Preaching of Jesus, WJK 2010, pp. 2-3). Unfortunately, says Brosend, that line has been crossed and the conversation has begun missing the point! So, the question remains -- who is Jesus?