Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Jesus Project

This project seems to be happening. I wonder what sort of results might come from it. From the Jesus Seminar, we had many publications and some were quite helpful for a beginner in ancient history. Perhaps there will be a scribe in the Jesus Project who can hear and tell the story without having to prove anything. I doubt though that they will succeed in defining 'faith' or even give credible reasons why Christianity began. Crossley has a good question though: "why was the figure of Jesus the object of affection?"

I have never seen anyone suggest that God does something special. I guess it is because God is immeasurable - i.e. not subject to scientific statements in whatever science you name: history, language, astronomy, or physics. God is not even subject to religion. I cannot define God's doing either. Nor can any scholar define God's undoing. But affection? That's almost like measuring love.

Here's what I think in a very few words. Humans are violence-prone, filled with fear, kept in check by a veneer of social graces beaten and shamed into them in their youth. Some try to raise with love and there is some degree of alleviation of fear, self-seeking, pain-avoidance and violence in a few cases. Violence may or may not improve chances of a temporary survival. It seems people still believe this proposition and take their chances.

Jesus seems to have been different. At least those are the reports in the New Testament. It could be that the ultra-violence that Rome had spread around the Mediterranean world and competition for her favours improved the chances of some kind of explosion particularly in a special place like Israel. In one sense the explosion came through revolution and the subsequent crushing of Jerusalem. In another sense, because of Jesus, the explosion came through a radicalization of response to each other and even to rulers. (Affection?)

It appears also that there was preparation in the human psyche for the message of redemption and love. Those like the Ethiopian eunuch who 'went on their way rejoicing' don't seem to have been great politicians or scholars. They may have found joy in that kind of knowledge - the measurable, readable, quotable kind. But they also more particularly found joy in something new in their relationship to 'the ultimate'. One dare not say. They spoke in tongues, they traveled and preached till their heads were chopped off, they recounted the presence of the Spirit of Christ, a risen Lord Jesus to everyone they met. They reasoned but not about axioms and proofs, rather about hope and experience.

Their 'success' seems moot. Eventually, they / we seem to have created the same old religious structures that were there before the explosions. Something good maybe, but something missing also? The good news doesn't seem very joyful. Violent children still are violently shaped for a violent and unjust social order. And though there is good work, there is also an abundance of trouble.

Was there something special in Jesus? Something that is an invitation? Something that frees one to a different joy? Something that leads into hope and heals the angry heart? Or is this impulse of stubborn faith just the working out of a bootstrapped process that runs on power and death? (Bootstrap is a technical term here. It refers to the necessary and tricky start-up of an automaton - which then can keep going till it runs out of stuff to do or someone turns off the power.)

I searched here and there in my life and I found a few interesting tidbits. Nothing helped till I found the power of the death of Jesus for me. Like Psalm 34, where the writer says - taste and see that the Lord is good, I found a start of a journey that did not seem to be simply another violent and shameful dead end. There was an end, my end in him, and there is also surprise. Of course, I can't really tell you everything. Affection? Yes - definitely. As the Beloved for the Bridegroom and without disappointment.

So what will the intelligence behind the Jesus Project give birth to? Something more effective than the Jesus Seminar? Or something similar - lots of books for the religious market and a few wandering lecturers reading Psalm 82 and going on about meeting someone again for the first time.

[Update - see this interesting essay by Richard Beck]


scott gray said...

hey bob—

i had occasion this last weekend to participate in a seminar by dominic crossan, who used to be in on the jesus seminar. his session was about justice and the pauline letters. in the session he posed a context of diaspora jew paul inside jewish eschatological tradition, inside roman imperialism tradition. his contextualization was fascinating.

he posed a dichotomy of paths from war to peace: the imperial path, of war to violence to victory to peace; and the eschatological path, of war to non-violence to justice to peace. he implied that god was a necessary player in the escatological path; that peace through non-violence and justice wasn’t possible without god. he implied that the imperial path is what people do without god.

here’s what it did for me. i have no use for the eschatological portion of judeo-christian theology, so i have to find other metanarratives that resonate. i can’t agree with the necessity of god in any eschatological second coming form, especially in a triumphal form. the only way this can work for me is if the eschaton is the already-happened jesus event, precipitating the non-violent justice path to peace.

one of the reasons i stay glued to the jesus traditions as an agnostic is that i think that as a species, we are not going to make it if we can’t make this jesus tradition of non-violent justice path to peace the default, on individual levels, on community levels, on national levels, on global levels. i find no value whatsoever in judeo-christian triumphal theologies. i think a lot of the emerging church growth and wrestling is about these same issues, with belief (at various levels) in god and in jesus-as-god tossed in.

i can’t accept a violent second coming. i can accept a non-violent jesus event, and find great value within that tradition. the contextualization that crossan presented, from the perspective of a jesus seminar thinker, gives me a lot of richness to work from.

perhaps the jesus project will do the same for others.



Bob MacDonald said...

Hi scott

I have enjoyed Crossan's work a great deal. I have heard him and talked to him. The allusive reference to Psalm 82 in my note is a reference to Crossan - it is his favorite psalm. I think he has captured a critical aspect of Jesus' work in this understanding of justice.

My experience of the judgment of Christ is that a violent second coming is a contradiction. But the image of suddenness should tip us off to be open to the unexpected in our faith. But - without faith - what will we do? Just explain things and say we understand? This seems too much our thing rather than the unexpected.

scott gray said...

crossan also talked about paul's 'justification by grace through faith' as 'justice by god's gift of self/spirit through acceptance/belief.' i think this is how you see it, is it not? your acceptance of the god/gift is grace through faith? the question came up in the session, can this be partial acceptance of the gift, or does one have to accept the whole thing? you can see where partial acceptance appeals to me. crossan gave the metaphor of grace-as-operating-system-upgrade: the same 'stuff' in one's life gets processed, but by a different, grace-oriented operating system. acceptance is where the question shows up on the monitor: 'download now--yes or no?'



Bob MacDonald said...

his metaphor is nice

i am partial to partial

we have limited apprehension so how could we accept 'the whole thing' at once

but something more than nothing is known in the beloved Christ Jesus and we feel our way towards this narrow gate

that's why i am so much against confessions and inerrancy etc - the proponents presume to know to much

the real issue is to let oneself be known by the one who is inviting

there is plenty to address even with the little we are given to know

scott gray said...

i am partial to partial

bob, you are truly priceless. i may file the serial numbers off of this and use as my re-emerging blog title.


Bob MacDonald said...

Only my sisters have called me priceless! :)

I promoted one of your questions to a post. Here's a quick reply to another. You write: i have no use for the eschatological portion of judeo-christian theology

I may be guilty of trying to reduce complexity too far but let me suggest that the writers of the NT were attempting to show the radical nature of Jesus' death. I don't think I am alone in thinking of the whole of Revelation as a meditation on his suffering.