Scot McKnight has an interesting post explaining why he has abandoned hope in historical Jesus studies being useful for the church. In “Historical Jesus Contrarian” he makes five points:
First, historical Jesus studies attempt to get “behind” the Gospels and the Creeds to talk about the “real” Jesus.
Second, he suggest that this is problematic since it dismisses the church’s Jesus.
Third, the church knowing what we confess about Jesus is already disadvantaged by engaging a discussion with this presupposition.
Fourth, this does not mean he opposes the idea of studying the canonical Jesus in his first century context because this sort of historical study takes the canonical Jesus seriously while historical Jesus studies attempt to move past the canonical Jesus to the Jesus behind the text.
Fifth, the Gospels are interpretations of Jesus so if we reconstruct a “historical Jesus’ with the aims of getting to the “real” Jesus then we find ourselves in the awkward position of placing our reconstructed Jesus up against the canonical and creedal Jesus.
These are interesting and serious contentions. I welcome you to take the time to read McKnight’s post and wrestle with his claims.
Dr. McKnight discussed these same things with Daniel and I when we had the opportunity, along with a few other peers, to meet and talk with him. In my mind it seems to stand in opposition to what Wright claims in the beginning of “The Challenge of Jesus” when he uses the example of his friend lecturing in Kenya on the quest for the historical Jesus, and the student raises his hand and says “if the Germans have lost Jesus, that is their problem. We have not lost him. We know him. We love him.” to make the point that historical Jesus studies is necessary and essential for Christian discipleship. But of course, Wright’s historical Jesus studies never undermine the gospels or the orthodox Christ.
I definitely agree with McKnight that the most helpful part of historical Jesus studies is in how it contributes to giving us a clearer understanding of the use of certain words/phrases and images in the New Testament. I think in so far as helping the church is concerned, he makes a strong point.
His distinction between historical Jesus studies and historical context studies, I think, clarifies things.
One thing that seems to differentiate Wright and McKnight in my mind is that McKnight is criticizing the “historian’s Jesus,” i.e., the Jesus known through the limitations of historical criticism while Wright, affirming some of the tools of historical criticism, speaks of Jesus as he was. Some critics have noted that Wright’s historical Jesus looks a lot like the Gospel of Luke’s Jesus and I have (heard? can’t remember) Wright speak of his methodology as something like “assuming these things happened, what would they mean in their historical context,” which sounds like McKnight’s fourth point.
I like all of them but number 3. Does he really think we can start tabula rasa? And why doubt church history? We should embrace it.
Comments are closed.