Jump to content

The Jesus Seminar


flowperson
 Share

Recommended Posts

The attached article appeared today on the LA Times websight. I thought that it might be useful to discuss how important the movement that this man started may have been to the progress (regress) of Christianity. Have any of you read any of his books? I haven't. And if so, could you give a short discussion of it/them elsewhere on the TCPC website? He seems to have been a pretty brave guy to me.

 

 

OBITUARIES

Robert Funk, 79; Scholar Questioned Miracles of Jesus

By Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer

 

 

Robert W. Funk, founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, which called into question New Testament miracle stories and the authenticity of many of the statements attributed to Jesus, has died. He was 79.

 

Associates at the Westar Institute, which sponsored the Jesus Seminar, said Tuesday that Funk died Saturday at his Santa Rosa, Calif., home of lung failure. He had undergone surgery in July to remove a malignant brain tumor.

 

After many years in academia, Funk's rise to public recognition came after he founded the nonprofit Westar Institute in Santa Rosa in 1985 to promote research and education on what he called biblical literacy. Its first project, the Jesus Seminar, renewed the quest for the historical Jesus.

 

In the course of those studies, the think tank stirred controversy among conservative Christians even as liberal Christians applauded its scholarship for making Christianity believable and relevant in the postmodern world.

 

Among the Jesus Seminar's assertions was that many of the miracles attributed to Jesus never occurred, at least in a literal sense. Nor, the Jesus Seminar concluded in 1995, did Jesus rise bodily from the dead. The scholars also agreed that there probably was no tomb and that Jesus' body probably was disposed of by his executioners, not his followers.

 

But scholars — who included Burton Mack, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan — also concluded that the religious significance of Jesus' resurrection did not depend on historical fact.

 

"We wanted to make an affirmative statement to all those who think we only care about tearing down Christian faith," Funk said at the time.

 

The seminar, which eventually attracted more than 200 fellows in religion and meets twice a year, became famous for how its scholars voted on the authenticity of the biblical accounts, using different colored beads for grading: red for undoubtedly accurate, pink for probable, gray for passages containing some historical truth and black for passages they found without historical basis. In all, 80% of the passages attributed to Jesus were rejected by the seminar.

 

Among the Jesus Seminar critics was religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. In 1991, when someone joked, "I'd like to make them swallow their beads," Robertson laughed and called the project an attempt to "accommodate the Bible to their own disbelief."

 

Jesus Seminar votes on biblical issues followed debate and dialogue among the scholars, as well as the preparation of scholarly papers. The seminar also published its own translations of Christian Scriptures, color-coding the text in the way the scholars voted.

 

By the time Funk launched the Jesus Seminar, the search for the historical Jesus had been underway at least 150 years among historians and scholars. The seminar made public what previously had been confined to seminaries and universities.

 

"The single most important thing for those of us who had anything to do with [Funk] was his insistence that we do what we do in public," Jesus Seminar fellow Daryl Schmidt, a professor of Greek and the New Testament at Texas Christian University, said Tuesday. "We didn't make any of this up. Anyone who's been to seminary knows this, but this" was "the best-kept secret."

 

But the peeling away of layers of what the seminar considered to be myth and storytelling about Jesus outraged conservative Christians. Ten years ago, two professors at Biola University, a conservative Christian institution, wrote a book assailing the Jesus Seminar, titled "Jesus Under Fire."

 

"They leave people spiritually bankrupt and hopeless," the two authors, Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, wrote of the seminar. Others called the Jesus Seminar's scholarship shallow.

 

Luke Timothy Johnson, a Catholic scholar, contended that the seminar's "obsessive concern with historicity and its extreme liberalism merely represents the opposite side of fundamentalism."

 

But Funk was unbending. Jesus, Funk said, was "one of the great sages of history," but he was not the man portrayed in a surface reading of the New Testament.

 

"I do not want my faith to be in Jesus, but faith in the really real … in some version of whatever it was that Jesus believed," Funk said.

 

Born on July 18, 1926, in Evansville, Ind., Funk earned his bachelor's of divinity and master's degrees from Butler University and its affiliated Christian Theological Seminary in 1950 and 1951. He earned a PhD in 1953 from Vanderbilt University and was a Guggenheim Fellow and a Senior Fulbright Scholar.

 

He also taught at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, was chairman of the graduate department of religion at Vanderbilt University and executive secretary of the Society of Biblical Literature.

 

His books include "Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God" (1966), "The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus" (1993), "Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium" (1996) and "The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds" (1998). He also wrote "A Credible Jesus," which was published in 2002.

 

He is survived by his wife, Charlene Matejovsky of Santa Rosa; daughters Andrea Ray of Eugene, Ore., and Stephanie McFarland of Portland, Ore.; and a brother, Charles Anthony Foster, of Tampa, Fla. Funeral services will be private. A memorial service is planned later this month at the Westar Institute.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 52
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Ok, I'll bite. :)

 

I read Honest to Jesus a number of years ago. I would probably say that and Crossan's The Historical Jesus were my first forays into the "deconstruction" of Christian origins. My biggest beef with Funk would be that, like Spong, I do find him to be rather condescending towards those with whom he disagrees, and closed off to the possibility that a traditional voice has anything very useful to contribute. On a purely historical level, I do happen to agree with much of the Jesus Seminar's conclusions regarding the literal historicity of much of the gospel material, the virgin birth, miracles, the resurrection, etc. Not because I think the JS is necessarily doing such great history, and certainly not because I consider God unable to do "wonders" -- but simply because I believe the scriptures make so much more sense, and point so much more clearly to God's wonders, when read in a nonliteral way.

 

I concur with the cited criticism that the JS has an "obsessive concern with historicity," and that (for some of the JS folks, at least) "its extreme liberalism merely represents the opposite side of fundamentalism." I came to the conclusion in college, long before all the Jesus Seminar hoopla (well ok, not that long before), that fundamentalists and modernists read the Bible exactly the same way -- as literal history -- and then just disagreed over whether it was true as such. But either way, it seems to me, you miss almost the entire point.

 

But it's also important to recognize that the JS historical-critical perspective adds a valuable corrective lens to one's reading of scripture. And Funk must be credited with bringing this way of reading scripture to the public, through the vehicle of Westar and the JS. For whatever ideological and political blinders they may have (don't we all), the public's understanding of issues in Bible interpretation will never be the same.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a few things to say, but my desire is not to respond to this man's passing in an inflammatory way, so that the thread dissolves into a "he's a heretic/no he's not" way. A couple of things in the article jump out at me, though, and I am interested in your perspectives as "progressive Christians".

 

In all, 80% of the passages attributed to Jesus were rejected by the seminar.

 

First off, this % stuns me. And leads me to the question: Would a person who only believes 20% of the passages in the Bible attributable to Jesus are true consider himself/herself a Christian/Christ follower/disciple of Christ? If so, how? I don't say that sarcastically--I would truly think someone with those beliefs would more likely think of themselves as a spiritual person who values some of the things the man Jesus said or stood for, just as they value many other teachers.

 

It's not surprising to me that after dismissing 80% of Jesus' sayings, and most of His miracles, Funk refers to him as just a "great sage."

 

Is that it? Can that be all there is to Jesus? A "great sage" who taught us how to be nice to people, but really had little power? I'm asking these questions out loud, not pointing them at any of you specifically. I'm not assuming that any of you hold fast to all of the Jesus Seminar teachings.

 

At the end of the day, the Jesus presented there would not be a Jesus I would leave father or mother for or be persecuted for. It would not be a Jesus I would drop my fishing net or get up from my desk and immediately follow forever. It would not be a Jesus I would worhsip (as he called for), anymore than I would "worship" any man or woman. It would not be a Jesus I would feel compelled to obey in all circumstances. It would not be a Jesus I would look to for healing. And it certainly would not be a Jesus I would be willing to die for.

 

 

Funk says he did not his faith to be in Jesus. I contrast this with the examples of the Roman soldier...the women with the unending flow...Zacchaeus. I think their faith was clearly in Jesus, and he was always impressed with their faith. They saw a power and presence they did not find elsewhere.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks darby for your thoughtful response.

 

Here are a few rules of thumb to start off with:

 

For many in the Jesus Seminar, and many progressive Christians, Jesus is just a great sage, and they would say so to your face.

 

For others in the Jesus Seminar, and definitely many progressive Christians, Jesus is much more than that.

 

JS'ers, and in general, progressive Christians, will agree that the Bible is not supernatural or divine in origin, but is the human response to the divine (if they believe in the divine), or at least to the higher spiritual realities in humanity. They'll also believe, to varying degrees, that as such, the Bible midleads as often as it points the way (sometimes, paradoxically, at the same time), and may do so even under the best of intentions.

 

So much for rules of thumb. :)

 

You asked:

 

Would a person who only believes 20% of the passages in the Bible attributable to Jesus are true consider himself/herself a Christian/Christ follower/disciple of Christ? If so, how?

I read that question two ways:

 

1) Would a person who only believes 20% of the passages in the Bible attributable to Jesus are true...? (which is what you said)

 

and,

 

2) Would a person who only believes 20% of the passages in the Bible attributable to Jesus were spoken by Jesus...? (which is what Funk, and the JS, say)

 

Those are two different things entirely. Related, but entirely different. If Jesus really said 100 things, and 20 were true, we'd be quite silly to have anything to do with him. But if Jesus is presumed to have said 100 things, and really said 20 of them, but those 20 were the truest things ever uttered... well, that's a different story.

 

Thought experiment. I know you have to step outside your own point of view here in a big way, but try to imagine that you have a deep reverence for the Bible and what it relates, but you simply don't believe it is divine in origin. Nonetheless, it's not a pile of rubbish either: it confronts us as a piece of living history. As a historian, you take it for granted that, even with the best of intentions, biases creep in, power plays take place, fabrications occur, and so on. Yet you're captivated by the person at the center of this living history, and through it all, you believe that God was really experienced in him. Wouldn't you want to be damned sure that you have distinguished what he really said and did from what his disciples, or the early church, says he said and did? Or at least give it your critical best?

 

For me? My angle is a little different. I'm not that concerned with the level of "authenticity" that the JS is so obsessed about. I'm not unconcerned, but I'm not that concerned. I think, in most cases, the theological, philosophical, spiritual, mystical, symbolic, etc. layers of development are at least as impotant as this or that saying of Jesus; and I regard most of what's really important in the Bible to be composed in those categories. As a moral teacher, Jesus didn't say that much that all the great moral teachers haven't said before and since. But as a sign and symbol of God's self-gift to us, the story of Jesus is literally the "greatest story ever told."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I honestly don't know much about the Jesus Seminar, so I can only comment on what y'all have written. I really like what you said, Fred , about 'well what if out of the 100 things, 20 were the among the best things ever said/written. Well halleluah bro!

 

And yes, I'd agree with Fred that imo/belief Jesus is much more than a spiritual sage.

 

>Thought experiment. I know you have to step outside your own point of view here in a big way, but try to imagine that you have a deep reverence for the Bible and what it relates, but you simply don't believe it is divine in origin. Nonetheless, it's not a pile of rubbish either: it confronts us as a piece of living history. As a historian, you take it for granted that, even with the best of intentions, biases creep in, power plays take place, fabrications occur, and so on. Yet you're captivated by the person at the center of this living history, and through it all, you believe that God was really experienced in him. Wouldn't you want to be damned sure that you have distinguished what he really said and did from what his disciples, or the early church, says he said and did? Or at least give it your critical best?

 

 

Wow, Fred! I have to copy this and study it in my leisure. This is really profound.

 

>For me? My angle is a little different. I'm not that concerned with the level of "authenticity" that the JS is so obsessed about. I'm not unconcerned, but I'm not that concerned. I think, in most cases, the theological, philosophical, spiritual, mystical, symbolic, etc. layers of development are at least as impotant as this or that saying of Jesus; and I regard most of what's really important in the Bible to be composed in those categories.

 

Yes, I'd agree with that as well. I am not terribly caught up with this authenticity angle, or if I do, I remind myself of what I think when watching MASH. :-) (There are stories that were based on actual history and I try to figure out which are which, knowing that I can never really do this. Still as in all stories what is "true" stands.)

 

What is true stands. I don't get too caught up wtih the literal truth, as I believe that "truth" transcends the literal. Mythos is not the same thing as telling silly stories. The deep true things stand out way beyond anything else.

 

Thanks darby, for your very politely worded question and comments.

 

 

 

--des

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry to hear about his passing

Although I've never been a fundamentalist, my first exposure to alternative theories for the origins of Christianity was the Gospel of Q by Burton Mack.

I was originally turned off by what I felt( in my opinion) was his dry and academic writing style . He also continually refered to Christianity as myth which at first I had issues with. A year later I read "Honest to Jesus" and it was a revelation to me and helped me better understand Mr Burton's Gospel of Q book.

 

I liked Mr Funk idea that Orthopraxy(right practice) maybe more important than Orthodoxy(right belief) in the final analysis.

 

Again sorry to hear about his passing.

 

 

MOW

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Really good responses to this! I would agree with much of what you said Fred.

 

I do not find that taking myself outside of a narrative and trying to observe and evaluate it based upon my knowledge and objective experiences lessens my ability to often hold profound belief in what it represents. All great art has that effect upon those who have the ability to understand the symbolic elements imbedded within it.

 

This holds true for music, graphic representations, the written word, and the spoken word. If it works in the beholder to engender a heartfelt belief, then in my book it is a "true" thing in that it resonates with some portion of our sacred "being".

 

The stories of the Bible do this very well. And, I find that I can also be as moved by the final crucifiction scenes in Kubrick's early motion picture, Spartacus, as I am by any portrayal of Jesus' final hours. Supreme sacrifice hurts terribly. Both for those who are sacrificed and their loved ones. By observing and understanding this, and by sharing in their emotions, we come to believe in its value to the whole in enabling continuance. This is one way that humanity has come to deal with the vagaries of nature's destructive powers and the crimes of demonic and corrupted tyrants.

 

The term "myth' causes a problem with most people today because we have been conditioned by the politicized corporate media to believe that myths are some sort of made-up story that is inherently not true. This goes against decades of research by anthropologists, musicologists, and others skilled in the interpretation of made objects and works of art.

 

After reading the work of Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and others who documented the profound human stories and expressions of the past , I have come to believe that myths may be the deepest truths concerning the nature of humanity through the ages that we may access, simply because they are mostly stories about people just like us. They just happened to have lived in the past, and would likely be as bewildered as we are about the world that we have all landed in today.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 weeks later...

I think the Jesus Seminar has its place. Their thoughts and issues cause discussion and that is good. One must remember that just because they come up with a hyposthesis, does not make it fact. They have their critics even among liberal scholars. If I recall correctly, Donald Spoto (Phd in Religion from Fordam) and author of the Hidden Jesus did not sound impressed by them. He certainly is not impressed by Crossan's scholarship (rips him in a foot note). I think he calls one of Crossan's works "profoundly dissapointing". He also calls the fascination with lost gospels crass commercialism.

 

North

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I hadn't heard the news of Funk's passing. I'm sorry to hear it.

 

As a historian, you take it for granted that, even with the best of intentions, biases creep in, power plays take place, fabrications occur, and so on. Yet you're captivated by the person at the center of this living history, and through it all, you believe that God was really experienced in him.

Having a background in history myself, I agree with this. That is one of the reasons that I like the work of the Jesus Seminar.

 

Something that we have to remember: the Christian claim is not an abstract one, but an historical one. While we need to consider that the gospels narratives are narratives (and interpretations) of faith, the cornerstone of the proclaimation is a single historical figure. As such, I would argue that it is the responsibility of historians who feel called to do so to investigate Jesus according to thier own gifting and training. It is part of their service to the church, even if the church doesn't want to hear it.

 

Also, if I understand the issue correctly, a major issue (which is the source of the real controversy that comes from their interpretations) is the dating of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. According to their analysis, Thomas should be dated to the middle of the first century, before the writing of the gospel narratives. If this is so, then they have quite a claim for their work.

 

However, if I am not mistaken, the majority opinion is that Thomas should be dated to the middle of the second century, after the composition of the gospels. If the majority of scholars is correct, then the emphasis that the JS puts on Thomas as having lots of authentic Jesus sayings is incorrect. The later dating would subject it to significant edits as the tradition developed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Xian:

 

I would agree with you to an extent, but when looking at the materials one is struck with the simplicity and primitiveness of the sayings in the Thomas gospel. While the synoptics are full-bore literary stories in nature.

 

When studying the origins of wisdom literature in any sacred discipline, the earlier works usually tend toward the mystic, poetic and simple, rather then narrative stories. Not to mention the fact that several of the main threads that show up in the synoptics are foundationed in Thomas.

 

Then, of course we are also missing access to the "Quelle" document, which, at least for now, is lost to us all. This might provide bridgeing knowledge to tie things together more logically. If it never surfaces we may never know. Or, we might even end up with more questions. But every so often things are still uncovered in the desert.

 

I also believe that the "majority" of scholars would fall under the rubric of orthodoxy, and hence it simply would not be in their ecclesiastical interest to find that Thomas could take any sort of precedence, historical or otherwise, over the synoptics.

 

For what it's worth I believe the Jesus seminar got lots of things right, simply because they rigorosly and scientifically examined the evidence available to this very diverse group at the time. I've watched such processes in action up close, and it is THE primary way that civilization's knowledge moves into the future.

 

flow.....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also believe that the "majority" of scholars would fall under the rubric of orthodoxy, and hence it simply would not be in their ecclesiastical interest to find that Thomas could take any sort of precedence, historical or otherwise, over the synoptics.

Actually, this is in reference to the majority opinion of scholars (and by that I mean scholars of good repute). This would be the same group that the JS refers to as the "majority opinion." In general, this could possibly be translated as "liberal scholars" as opposed to "orthodox scholars," but I don't know that I want to go that far.

 

I would agree with you to an extent, but when looking at the materials one is struck with the simplicity and primitiveness of the sayings in the Thomas gospel. While the synoptics are full-bore literary stories in nature.

Thank you for reminding us of that. This is indeed the key to the early dating. Unfortunately, I'm not overly-involved in why Thomas is dated as it is by the various historians. Thus, I cannot speak to why the majority opinion leans in the direction of the later-dating.

 

I consider the issue to be a good example of how interpretive the field of history is. What happens if form criticism (which would closely examine structure) and historical-contextual criticism (which would look at the cultural atmosphere of a document) come up with different conclusions? Well, we do the best we can with what we've got but leave the question open to new research.

 

And, since the need for new research leads to more jobs for historians, hooray for inconclusiveness!! :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Xian:

 

I also believe that the "majority" of scholars would fall under the rubric of orthodoxy, and hence it simply would not be in their ecclesiastical interest to find that Thomas could take any sort of precedence, historical or otherwise, over the synoptics.

 

For what it's worth I believe the Jesus seminar got lots of things right, simply because they rigorosly and scientifically examined the evidence available to this very diverse group at the time. I've watched such processes in action up close, and it is THE primary way that civilization's knowledge moves into the future.

 

flow.....

 

But there are many scholars who are quite liberal and open minded who do not find Thomas possessing of any precedence. Spoto is no conservative (does not believe that the birth narratives are historical nor the temptation of christ but that they are metaphors, etc). He seems to believe that there are pretty good academic reasons *not* to give the gospel of Thomas that sort of credence. As I said he sees this move as trendy "crass comercialism" as opposed to being based on academics.

 

I am a liberal Christian and frankly, maybe the Jesus Seminar is right and maybe not. I think they get caught up in their own publicity sometimes. To counter argue let me assure you that there are credible conservative academics who can also use academics and science to prove their points as well. How you look at things and the paradigm you use can determine outcome, hence often futility in arguing... if your point is to change someones mind. For "true believers" in the Jesus Seminar they will have been seen to have it right in a solid academic sense in a similar way that academics from DTS and other conservative schools will be seen to be right in a solid academic sense by conservatives (who laugh at what they consider the pseudo academics of the Jesus Seminar). One of my problems with Spong (who I enjoy reading) and Crossan is that their argumenation sometimes has holes you could drive a semi tractor through but they act as if their conclusions are rock solid and who could possibly disagree. A pew sitting liberal might accept the easy conclusions as iron clad fact with no wiggle room but an open minded academic will not. The same can be said for conservatives who argue for literal inerrancy, a pew conservative will accept this unflinchingly but an open minded academic will not.

 

You make the point about the movement of society. It was Karl marx who noted that society moves forward on conflict. This is true in the macro & micro sense. Relationships move forward and grow based on conflict (not necessarily knock down drag out but struggle), on iron sharpening iron. Our understanding of God matures in this way too as we struggle with the concept and relationship (a point made by Harold Kushner in one of his books on God). That is why I enjoy seeing both sides and playing devils advocate. Certitude can be problematic whether coming from left or right. We progresives do not have a corner on tolerance. In fact some of the most intolerant folks I have met are liberals (my way or the highway).

 

I enjoyed your insights in this thread.

 

North

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am a liberal Christian and frankly, maybe the Jesus Seminar is right and maybe not. 

 

I have tried to keep up with the Jesus seminar a bit, and found the approach of open inquiry from a variety of disciplines to be refreshing...

 

The one aspect they lack, to their detriment, I believe, is to include scholars from various convictions- both those who are "progressive" as well as those who are "evangelical" or even "conservative"...

 

The dialogue brought about by the Jesus seminars has ended up being rather one-sided, because Funk, Spong, Crossan, Borg and others have only invited to the table those from the conviction that scripture is almost purely metaphorical and lacks historical authenticity, aside from being human documents from an ancient Christian community.

 

What are they afraid of?

 

Open the dialogue to include people from various convictions and even other faiths, and the conversation can only be enriched, as long as everyone who participates agrees to be respectful, and inclusive of all views that are voiced with scholarly backing for their claims...

 

Peace,

 

J

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Open the dialogue to include people from various convictions and even other faiths, and the conversation can only be enriched, as long as everyone who participates agrees to be respectful, and inclusive of all views that are voiced with scholarly backing for their claims...

This idea is so full of good heartfelt progressive optimism, that it's a shame to have to say that I can't imagine it succeeding on any possible level. The Jesus Seminar "enriched" by bringing in evangelical historians? Even if everybody does manage to stay "respectful of each other's differences" -- the First and Greatest Commandment of Progressive Christianity -- what sort of fruitful conclusions can one really expect to arrive at? The participants are coming from completely different fundamental understandings of God's relationship to history, to put it mildly. It's either going to be a circus event, or the most worthless display of academic politeness the world has ever seen.

 

(Scrolling up...) Ok, just making sure I'm in the Debate area... B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think of the book between Borg and Wright - engaging, respectful, both views with merit. Perhaps if the discussion was between those who hold different views, but also have respect for the other view? Perhaps a discussion between those who used to be liberal and those who used to be conservative but are now the opposite or are now moderate?

 

I guess you're probably right Fred, people being people. :rolleyes:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fred-

 

I agree completely. Can you imagine John Spong and Franklin Graham in the same room, sharing ideas? Neither is going to walk away agreeing with the other. They might be nice, and be friendly towards one another, and respect each other as people, but that's about it. They're both going to leave, thinking under their breath, "Boy, he sure was a pleasant fellow. Wish he wasn't so screwed up in his thinking." (not sure we're any different on this board!)

 

It brings to mind the semantics of being "tolerant" and "accepting" of others' beliefs. I think I'm pretty tolerant of anyone believing just about anything. Now, am I accepting of those beliefs as valid and true as my own? Not necessarily. If that were the case, none of us could have principals or standards. If everything's valid, then nothing's invalid. I don't buy into that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps if the discussion was between those who hold different views, but also have respect for the other view? Perhaps a discussion between those who used to be liberal and those who used to be conservative but are now the opposite or are now moderate?

I understand what you're saying, but my question remains: what is the point of these exercises? Are Borg and Wright blazing new trails together as the result of their collaboration? I always have, and will continue to respect and defend anyone's right to believe differently than I do; but the value of so much "respectful dialogue" between completely different viewpoints is a lot less clear to me.

 

If I'm an evangelical historian trying to unpack the social situation of Paul's missionary churches, for example, do I really want to spend half my scholarly effort defending my biblical assumptions? Or if I'm a liberal historian examining Jesus' trial and execution, do I want to spend half my resources arguing against a literal reading of the passion accounts? No -- in both cases I've made my interpretive choices, and I want to get some scholarly work done. The Jesus Seminar folks, by and large, adopt a liberal reading of the gospel material. Everyone knows this, and is free to agree or disagree with that allegiance. But the bottom line is that this stance allows them to move beyond arguing about foundational assumptions, and actually put them to the test. If the JS was a mixed group, I think it would essentially be spinning its wheels and not making any contribution at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course I'm not saying that on a personal or even scholarly level, there isn't plenty of need to cut across perspectives. But there is a big difference between cutting across and synthesizing perspectives, and just putting them on display as if in a museum. These days, I think the idea is mostly being used to sell books. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like I said, you're probably right. I just know how I have benefited from having such debates put into book form. Seeing different view points, tit for tat, has allowed me to compare these views more easily, rather than bouncing from book to book to book to get different views on any given theological position. (I know a book offering differing opinions is a far cry from an actual live debate.)

 

The question fin my mind is - who is the debate for? If the purpose of the debate is to convince your "opponent" then I agree, it's a collosal waste of time (because as you said, interpretive choices have been made and minds are made up). But if those involved view the debate as an opportunity to offer differing views to an audience (who might not have their minds made up) then I think such discussions have merit. I've certainly benefited from them.

 

And yeah, if an individual has his mind made up and has no desire to defend his position against an opposing view, then he shouldn't have to. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think of the book between Borg and Wright - engaging, respectful, both views with merit. Perhaps if the discussion was between those who hold different views, but also have respect for the other view? Perhaps a discussion between those who used to be liberal and those who used to be conservative but are now the opposite or are now moderate?

 

I guess you're probably right Fred, people being people.  :rolleyes:

 

That book is the sort of dialogue I was thinking about- "The Meaning of Jesus Two Visions" by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright...

 

Part of the problem is that there is so much polarization on both sides...

 

Most Christian progressives would probably consider someone like N.T. Wright a conservative evangelical, perhaps with moderate tendencies...

 

I recently lent that book to a friend of mine who is very theologically conservative, and he told me that N.T. Wright was basically regarded as a liberal heretic by the more conservative Christian scholars...

 

I don't know- I guess we just continue the conversation as inclusively as possible and see who comes to the table...

 

My main point was that I think it is both arrogant and presumptuous to label and exclude others from the conversation because they come to the issue with different convictions than ours.

 

Peace,

 

J

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do see the point about using dialogue for the purpose of introducing multiple views to a potentially uneducated audience. From the perspective of actually building upon foundations and advancing ideas, that's where I think it has less utility. In that sense, it's interesting to note that the Jesus Seminar actually had both agendas in competition: educating the public to liberal historical Jesus scholarship on a broad scale, while at the same time actually advancing the discipline itself. And the "advancing the discipline" part almost always gets trumped by the "educating the public" part -- which typically takes the form of doing and saying sensational things for the benefit of the news media.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is interesting. On the one hand we seem to agree that the Seminar advanced knowledge in the field of study. But since the participants were largely liberal/progressive, that knowledge advance might just be suspect in that orthodox/conservatives likely reject it all out of hand.

 

Now if B follows A and implies C, is it true that the orthodox/conservative advocates might probably be expected to reject ANY advance in knowledge in this field of study no matter how authentic it might appear to be, such as a verified and vetted manuscript of the "Q" document dug out of a cave in the Negev? Remember what a rigidly tight lid was kept on the Dead Sea Scrolls? I do.

 

We're talking about belief here folks, and emotional attachments are involved in this. While some seek the novel and new no matter what the cost or consequences (I'm tempted to call them"curious georges" but I guess that name really doesn't fit }, others will fight to the death ANY attempt to change the status quo when it comes to new sacred knowledge (maybe we could call these people "incurious georges").

 

The foundations of societies are sacred beliefs, and we are all experiencing a titanic tug of war in the changing of these beliefs in our modern, borderless, technological world simply because they do not mesh with or define in any manner the dilemmas that our new world presents us all with every day.

 

I view the Seminar as an attempt by one person and a group of inquisitive and like-minded scholars to advance knowledge by openly questioning the foundations of Orthodox Christian beliefs. What a gutsy thing to do, especially when they did it before the monumental changes that we are all now experiencing every day!

 

God bless them. They sought the light! They collectively refused to continue in the darkness of the times.

 

What was the first thing that God did in Genesis? He/She LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!!

 

flow.... :rolleyes:

Edited by flowperson
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is interesting. On the one hand we seem to agree that the Seminar advanced knowledge in the field of study. But since the participants were largely liberal/progressive, that knowledge advance might just be suspect in that orthodox/conservatives likely reject it all out of hand.

 

. . .

 

God bless them. They sought the light! They collectively refused to continue in the darkness of the times.

 

What was the first thing that God did in Genesis? He/She LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!!

 

flow.... :rolleyes:

 

I support the goals of JS, and think their methods and findings are refreshing, and do bring new light... especially for all the neo-conservatives who would like very much to take us all back to the flat earth, literalist-fundamentalist understanding of the Bible.

 

We all know it is not that simple; all I was saying was that one area where I think JS has fallen short- amidst all the great accomplishments of advancing the cause of progressive Christianity, etc, etc, is that it has preached to the liberal choir...

 

Perhaps some of the agnostic masses, of which Borg speaks of repeatedly in "The Heart of Christianity" as 'voting with their feet' about the irrelevance of 'the former vision,' 'earlier tradition' or whatever the label of the week is for non-progressive Christians who believe there may be some semblance of inspiriation or historical validity to scripture... perhaps some from that crowd were reached by the Jesus Seminar, but for most moderate and/or evangelical Christians, it has raised more skepticism about liberal Christianity...

 

For evangelical and conservative Christians, JS has merely served to bolster the straw man of liberalism that traditionalists like Alastair MacIntyre and others have been claiming is a scourge and the root of societal decline...

 

I don't know- I think the findings of the Jesus Seminar are largely right on, but as an 'educational' tool or way to further the cause of progressive Christianity, they have failed miserably with the exception of some segments of atheists/agnostics...

 

Just my impression...

 

Having strength in numbers does not make people from a particular point of view right; but it does say something about the level of effectiveness with which that side is communicating their vision to the larger public...

 

So far, I am sorry to say, the neo-cons are winning in that category...

 

Progressive leaders say they are not concerned about competing with conservatives and fundamentalists, but yet every initiative from Christian progressives seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to what conservatives are doing....

 

a few examples:

 

-"Living the Questions"- the progressive discussion group, billed as 'the unapologetically liberal alternative to the Alpha course'

 

-the newsletter from this organization seems to frequently feature commentaries and articles that are reactions to what conservatives, like Billy Graham for instance, are saying and doing- why it is bad, and why progressives are better

 

-similarly with the books by Borg and numerous other progressive scholars- a significant portion of these books seems to focus on deconstructing evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, while the so-called 'newer vision' that Borg and others point to, seems often to be thrown in as a sort of after thought that lacks clarity or articulate development...

 

just my initial impressions to all this, as someone who considers himself very progressive socially, yet moderate in my theological views...

 

What do others think about all this?

 

 

Peace,

 

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

terms of service