Monday, January 12, 2009

who is Jesus?



leander keck (1955-1976), who in 1980 was appointed dean of the divinity school at yale university, asserts at the start of his book, who is Jesus?, that, while the question "who was Jesus?" asks us to identify a person who lived in the distant past by requesting information about him from his own time and place, the question "who is Jesus?" signals an interest in his current identity. the latter question, keck tells us, "would allow one to trace the continuing influence of Jesus in the religious and cultural history of the west, and in other parts of the world, as well."

but, this movement from was to is is a tricky one. on the one hand you have folks like bart ehrman and Jesus seminar and on the other you have the likes of n.t. wright and luke timothy johnson, all battling it out.

mike leaptrott writes about this divide in his blog, progression of faith. the post is called, Jesus in CGI –Incarnation and Cinematography, where he says that the miracles of Jesus are added to his life like special effects are added in the post-production of a movie. here's a taste:

"Modernity has left us feeling tired from the fight between secularists debunking the mythic CGI scenes in the Christian story and fundamentalists trying to blur lines with apologetic theological cinematography. Both sides of that battle have chosen a naive approach to studying myths. The postmodern response to this problem is to embrace the story without trying to defend its historicity. Postmodern responses transcend the modern era bible wars by seeking to make the values of Jesus more realistic now rather than insisting that the facts were real then. The result might mean fewer Christians waiting around to have our mistakes corrected in post-production and more Christians accurately portraying the values of Jesus in each scene of our lives."

but notice, at the end of the quote, leaptrott is attempting to assert his understanding of who is Jesus and not who was Jesus. this is important.

of course, this question is not new. i suppose the most famous incarnation of it comes from the prison writings of dietrich bonhoeffer, who asked, "who is Jesus for us today?" (i've talked about this elsewhere. go here).

the point here is that this question may be the most crucial facing the current discipleship community in the west, especially as it sits in exile in the ruins of christendom. therefore, it is a question from which we dare not shrink or shirk. our leaders, our gifted theologians, our deepest thinkers must respond to help us get beyond either a Jesus wrapped in an american flag, or a Jesus looking down from the high-towers of the academy.

to be sure, the hour is late.