Solus Iesus?

David Hayward shared this cartoon of his:

The question of whether Christianity should be community-focused, Bible-focused, or Jesus-focused is itself the focus of a lot of ongoing debate. Most would acknowledge, at least in theory, that Jesus should be the center. But it is debatable whether one can really have “Jesus alone” any more than “Scripture alone.” Human thought is not so easily disentangled. And just as we cannot get at the Scripture independent of our human minds and cultures and assumptions and prior beliefs, we cannot get at Jesus in a manner that is completely independent of the Bible, unless we are happy to have a Jesus that is purely a construction of our imaginations, a projection of our values.

But some unfortunately try to use this point as a means to sneaking the Bible back into the center. But what is needed in order to get at Jesus through the Bible is not an inerrant Bible, but the historical study of the Bible.

And the community should not be ignored in this either. Paul speaks of Christ having become a more-than-individual reality, the church being the body of Christ. And this is important. When we ask “What would Jesus do?” we are not merely asking what he did in his ancient context. To assume that what he would do in ours is simply what he did in his is to once again put the Bible, understood in a rigid legalistic fashion, back into the center. “It is written” and “what I have written, I have written.” A well-informed, vibrant, and reflective community can often serve as a useful antidote to that.


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  • jwhawthorne

    I’ve been pondering what happens when we take an ever broader view of community. I’m thinking about how we conceptualize the Gospel when we maintain a stance of community-with-others, especially those outside the local congregation. We’re a subset of the larger community and if we maintain that sense of connectedness, the Gospel works. If we isolate from the broader community and move to secure enclaves, the Good News becomes something that’s only Good for me (because I know the secret handshake) while being not-so-Good-News for those outside.

  • Hello folks.

    I explain here why (to my mind) progressive Christian should cease viewing the Bible as more inspired than books outside the Bible.

    “But some unfortunately try to use this point as a means to sneaking the
    Bible back into the center. But what is needed in order to get at Jesus
    through the Bible is not an inerrant Bible, but the historical study of the Bible.”

    That’s entirely true, but there are many things (including supernatural ones like the resurrection) which cannot be studied by the historical method, all one can do is hoping it happened.

    Community is definitely very important, it is there one should practice unconditional love.

  • John Walker

    This raises some epistemological questions. Greg Boyd has suggested that we make the historical Jesus the epistemological basis of the Christian faith. I am a little concerned with this because it is so probabilistic and the historical Jesus enterprise has been incredibly sporadic. What do you think James? I’m interested, is your epistemic foundation in the historical Jesus or some other concern?

    John Walker |

    • I agree both that the historical Jesus has to take a central place if Jesus is to take any sort of central place, and that Christian faith has never been and thus probably should not become what modernist fundamentalists try to make it, namely believing certain things about Jesus without evidence, rather than an existential commitment to the way of Jesus.

  • Stuart Blessman

    Sort of a sexist cartoon…but it does make a really good point.

    • How exactly is this sexist..?

      • Stuart Blessman

        That it’s a woman who wants only Jesus, and it’s a man who’s standing in the way. I’ve heard just as much of that rhetoric from women as I have from men. I understand you can’t depict both genders equally in a single cartoon, but that was still my first thought: that it is always a male who is the problem.

        • arcseconds

          isn’t that a reflection of statistical reality, though?

          what proportion of people who lead church services, right books about religious matters, or otherwise ‘sell packages’ involving Jesus are female?

          The largest church in the world doesn’t even allow female ordination!

  • newenglandsun

    The five solas are bogus. I speak as one who would still technically be an ECC (Evangelical Covenant Church) right now. But I lean heavily toward Eastern Catholicism (specifically Byzantine Catholicism). You need the Bible fortified by the traditions that have guided our understanding of it, you need community with God and people, you need Jesus – the last Adam – and Mary – the last Eve – and you need the cross and that Jesus’s death made us at one with God and that this atonement was motivated by God’s love for us. And you need the bodily resurrection, this is historic teaching, Trinity as well.

  • newenglandsun

    “But what is needed in order to get at Jesus through the Bible is not an inerrant Bible, but the historical study of the Bible”

    Let’s not confuse the topic of Biblical inerrancy. It is inerrant, it is the word of God, but it needs Jesus, the Word of God, to breathe life into it and make it alive. The Bible is but a dead letter without it. It is inerrant in terms of the spiritual truth it teaches. Yes, the author communicated to us this spiritual truth in his language so historical study on it is needed.

  • Clint Heyn

    I have always said that we may need to go “pre-scripture”…Pre- Constintine , so we can clear our spiritual Christ mind…just, once a year, forget the Old Testament, forget the Letters to Corinthians, forget Revelations, just read the words attributed to Jesus all the way through to get a holistic view of what He taught…only His words and then reflect on what it means to be “Christian”…

  • Marta L.

    I think of this issue in terms of a story a rabbi once told me about Hillel, a major figure in the Talmud from around the same time as Christ. Hillel was asked to summarize the whole of the Torah and gave an answer kind of like what Jesus said about the law and the prophets: that “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary.” But then he added (in my rabbi’s telling, accompanied by a good whack upon the head): “Now go and study.”

    So yeah, Jesus is at the center and rightly so. No question. But if that’s the end of the story, you’re like the man who thinks he follows the whole of Torah if he just keeps from doing the things he hate to his neighbors. How does he know what he should hate? And who is his neighbor? And all the questions that come after that. Tradition, Bible, reason, all the rest – they do matter. They just don’t get top billing.