Mainline Protestant Channel
Why Sinners? An Interview with Author Greg Carey
Early Christian preachers faced the great task of interpreting the crucifixion as resulting from Jesus' faithfulness rather than as a shameful defeat, what Paul calls "the scandal of the cross." The resurrection message certainly aided that task, but things did not stop there. Contrary to conventional values, Paul argues that God's power is demonstrated in "weak" and "foolish" things rather than in conventional power. He also maintains that the crucifixion and resurrection establishes a mystical bond between Christ and his followers, so that the crucifixion empowers believers to transcend sin and death. Revelation uses the cross to reinterpret divine power: where folks hope for the Lion of Judah, God rules through the Lamb that was slain (5:1-13).
In what ways does your understanding of Jesus' life and death impact the Christian's Easter experience?
I've never been able to make sense of Jesus' death as paying some sort of penalty for human sin. Instead, I see what Paul calls "the faithfulness of Christ," as Jesus lives out his vision to the point of confronting the religious and political powers of his day. I do have a high Christology. I believe that Jesus' death resulted from his faithful life, and I believe that in Jesus' death God has taken the fullness of human suffering and cruelty into God's own being. The resurrection, then, demonstrates God's blessing of Jesus' way and God's power over the forces of death. Our Lenten and Easter journey invites us to experience this reality in a way that is honest, self-critical, and hopeful.
The message of Jesus' faithfulness and God's vindication not only gives us hope beyond death, it empowers us to live Jesus' way right now. A full gospel proclamation must maintain this continuity among Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
Now that Sinners has been reviewed, what would you change about the book?
Aside of some minor oversights, I wish I had spent more time on one point. I maintain that the Gospels never describe Jesus as rebuking an individual sinner. He has harsh words for righteous people, but not for sinners. I still believe that, but some reviewers have rightly said this point needs more argumentation. For example, there's no doubt that the famous story of the woman caught in adultery is a later addition to John's Gospel (7:53-8:11), but I breeze by that story fairly briefly. And I never discuss John 5:14, in which Jesus tells a man he had healed, "Sin no more, lest something worse happen to you."
I think Jesus' companionship with sinners offers a vital clue for contemporary mission. We Christians waste our time chiding people for their moral failings, when we should be doing what Jesus did—meeting people where they are and bearing blessing and healing. In fact, a second look at the Gospels reveals that very often Jesus does not set the agenda—it's the people who come to him, even when he's trying to get some privacy. What would our mission look like if it were a response to people rather than the imposition of an agenda?
Greg Carey is Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Greg has taught at Lancaster Seminary since 1999 and taught previously at Rhodes College and Winthrop University. His publications include numerous studies on the book of Revelation and ancient apocalyptic literature, rhetorical analysis of the New Testament, and Sinners: Jesus and His Earliest Followers.
Greg serves as chair of the Rhetoric and the New Testament Section of the Society of Biblical Literature and as co-chair for the Apocalyptic Literature Section of the Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting. Greg serves on the editorial boards of The Journal of Bible and Human Transformation and Out In Scripture, an LGBT-friendly lectionary resource. Greg has also appeared in documentaries on the BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Channel.
Return to the Patheos Book Club to read an excerpt of Sinners, as well as more reviews and reflections from bloggers, pastors and scholars.