Following The Historical Jesus, Following The Real Jesus

Following The Historical Jesus, Following The Real Jesus December 28, 2009
Although many have found the historical Jesus a figure they could not follow in the way they had once been able to follow the “Christ of faith,” it struck me recently that in some ways following the historical Jesus – i.e. making Jesus as understood and accessible through historical study a central component of one’s Christian faith – parallels what it must have been like to be a disciple of the “real Jesus” almost two millenia ago.  (Note: I’m using the phrase “the real Jesus” in a manner similar to John P. Meier, to mean the actual individual as opposed to the person historians can reconstruct based on available evidence).

First, it involves uncertainty. There are hopes, and possibilities, but also the reality of a historical figure that not everyone finds persuasive and not everyone follows. Whereas many Christians envisage Jesus as one who is either literally or metaphorically ‘irresistable,’ clearly it was possible for not only opponents but even adherents to find the realities of who Jesus was challenging and at times unsettling. He was a figure about whom it was genuinely possible to have doubts.

Second, it involves a greater focus on the teaching of Jesus. A resurrection that may or may not lay in the future and a resurrection that historians cannot access in the past place disciples on both sides of Easter in comparable situations, at least in certain respects.

Third, it seems that the first and second generation of followers – those closest to him – saw the need to reinterpret his life in light of new occurrences and circumstances. When we find ourselves needing to do the same, that can be understood as an act of fidelity to the Christianity of those who encountered the real Jesus, rather than a betrayal.

What similarities and differences do you see between the two situations – between those who encountered Jesus as a real human being long ago, and those who encounter him (and seek to follow him) at least in part by making use of historical tools of study?


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