Non-traditional biblical scholarship has made a big splash in Christianity in the last 25 or so years. Perhaps the Jesus Seminar has attracted most of the attention with its insistence that most of what the New Testament records Jesus as saying he never said at all.
For my money, the Jesus Seminar has a very mixed record. It has popularized the study of theology, which has been a good thing, and some of its members, especially Marcus Borg, have added some important new insights to the faith. But many of its members have been much more interested in simply undoing traditional Christianity. That certainly was the agenda of the late Robert Funk.
But even while the Jesus Seminar folks were getting most of the press, other wonderfully solid New Testament scholars were offering insightful alternatives. Two who come immediately to mind are the late Raymond E. Brown and Luke Timothy Johnson (pictured here).
I had a chance to hear Johnson speak the other night when Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kan., brought him to town to lecture.
You may not believe that listening to a top-cabin theologian for an hour and a half could be fun, but it really was. Johnson, who teaches at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, has a charming way about him, a nice sense of humor and lots of really helpful insights to pass along.
He noted that people everywhere seem to be hungry to learn about Jesus, which is why they buy up so many of the books produced by folks in the Jesus Seminar.
But Johnson contended that the best way to learn about Jesus is through the faith and practices of the church, which includes meeting Jesus in the pages of the New Testament. It's better to learn the history of the first century, he said, so as to understand the context of Jesus better rather than deconstruct the New Testament looking for the historical Jesus. People who look for the historical Jesus in that way inevitably end up finding a Jesus that looks a lot like them, he said. But the more history of the first century world we learn the better readers we are of the four gospels.
I want to give you a sense of what it's like to hear such a solid scholar and good speaker, so to hear the first 10 or so minutes of Johnson's talk, click on this link: Download Johnson-1.
In the Kansas City area we have lots of opportunities to hear great scholars like Johnson. I hope you'll take advantage of these occasions.
AND: Speaking of good scholars and speakers, you may or may not recall that in my last roundup of new books here on the blog I mentioned one by Glenn Carson called The Eternity Principle. Carson, who leads the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, will be here June 5 as a keynote speaker for a Disciples regional leadership summit. If you're interested, click on this link: Download GKCRegionalLeadershipSummit2010Schedule
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OH, DEAR, LADIES IN TALL HATS?
Poor old England -- still struggling with the question of female bishops in the Anglican Church. Folks, the 19th Century and even the 20th Century are over. Women know how to be church leaders. It's OK. Let 'em in.
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P.S.: At 7 p.m. tomorrow Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I will be speaking at the Jewish Community Center Campus in Overland Park, Kan., to introduce a four-part series we'll lead on subsequent Friday mornings called "They Were Just People: Holocaust Lessions for Today." The series will focus on lessons we learned writing our new book about Jews in Poland who survived the Holocaust with non-Jewish help. The Friday sessions -- April 23, April 30, May 7 and May 14 -- will run from 9:30 to 11 a.m. For details on how to sign up for this series, click here and scroll down to the "They Were Just People" headline. Hope you can join us.