The Challenge of Jesus

The Challenge of Jesus October 11, 2018

Listening to N. T. Wright’s book The Challenge of Jesus (as an audiobook, checked out from my local public library via the Libby app straight to my phone) has given me a new appreciation for Wright’s work and conclusions, many or all of which are argued more thoroughly in others of his books, but in those contexts are not always woven together into story form in the manner they are here. I’ve noted often that the study of the historical Jesus is characterized by book-length studies for a good reason, although it is one that has only been getting its methodological due at the theoretical level relatively recently. Treated atomistically, sayings and actions can be interpreted in a great many ways in isolation from one another that simply won’t make sense within the framework of the evidence as a whole, or of the historical context of the individual in question. Wright seeks to weave together not only words, actions, and context, but also theological questions both ancient and modern in addition to the more standard historical ones. Given the size of the book, he manages to pack an impressive amount into this volume.

The book begins by surveying some of the history of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.” He recognizes its connection with the Enlightenment and thus in turn with the Reformation and the desire to return to roots behind and beneath later dogmas. Wright suggests that the key early figures were, for the most part, asking the right questions even if they may be judged from our perspective as having given the wrong answers. By the end of the book, Wright will emphatically assert the importance of the postmodern chastening of an Enlightenment approach, while calling Christians to engage fully and deeply with both without simply embracing either. From a Christian perspective, the historical quest is a crucial one, for the simple reason that we should not consider ourselves free to invent our own Jesus.

Some of the contents were things that I was already familiar with, from Wright as well as others. His view of the hope in first century Judaism as being focused on an end to exile, for instance (a view I still find makes good sense of the relevant evidence), and his view of apocalyptic language as no more literal than our language of “earth shattering” events.

Other things were perhaps not new, but striking to hear articulated in precisely the way Wright did, or by him for that matter: for instance describing Jesus as like a politician garnering support for his movement, and explicitly placing him into the category of prophet (albeit not exclusively).

But some details were truly striking. For instance, I wasn’t aware that the language – the very terminology of “Repent and believe in me” – is to be found in Josephus!

In discussing Jesus’ statements about purity and social boundaries, Wright views these as going hand in hand with Jesus’ call to abandon concern for not defending oneself against enemies. This certainly seems to fit the symbolic function of purity rules as explored by Mary Douglas, Gordon Wenham, and others. But whether it is adequate in light of the challenge to the use of Judaism as a negative foil for Jesus as offered by Amy-Jill Levine (whose book Short Stories by Jesus is my next audiobook selection that I’ve begun listening to) is another matter. Wright’s suggestion that the Pharisees looking to discredit Jesus might have been like journalists seeking compromising photos, making their following him in a cornfield more plausible, is both intriguing and seemingly anachronistic, and may not genuinely recast the Pharisees as a historically plausible movement who do not merely continue to serve as stock enemies (albeit slightly different ones) in the story of Jesus.

In general, though, Wright seems to be able to adopt a balanced approach even to figures that might normally be merely contrasted with Jesus. For instance, he notes that Bar Kochba would have said (as Wright believes Jesus did) that the kingdom of God is both present and future. Wright argues for not avoiding questions about Jesus’ views either for reasons of piety or skepticism, but instead recommends recognizing Jesus as having been a “reflective theologian.” This does not make it possible to psychoanalyze Jesus (as some have tried to do), but it is possible for us to ask about his sense of vocation and intentions as evidenced by his actions.

Wright’s discussion (or rather mentions) of agency and Trinitarian theology leave unclear whether and to what extent I agree with Wright. At times, he seems to be situating Jesus fully within the context of first-century Jewish monotheism, understood in a manner not entirely unlike the way I myself understand it. At others, he seems to be at least trying to use language that will seem acceptable to those who are hoping to hear him affirm Nicene and Chalcedonian perspectives on Jesus when discussing them as a historical figure.

There are many details about which I will simply need to reflect further. For instance, the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures has God say he will resurrect David’s son, where the Hebrew text – having God promise that he will raise up a descendant of David’s – doesn’t quite sound like that. Did the very earliest Christians read the Greek text and understand it in that way?

Wright views many of the parables that have traditionally been understood to be about his “second coming” to instead be about Yahweh’s return to Zion, embodied in and acting through Jesus. Wright suggests that Luke makes this clear through reference to “your visitation.” Having been listening to the book, I am not sure whether in the print version I would have found a footnote to Joachim Jeremias, who suggested something that at least bears comparison to Wright’s viewpoint.

Wright also has interesting things to say about texts that are not about Jesus, considered in their own right as well as in relation to the New Testament. For instance, Wright argues that the Wisdom of Solomon views immortality of the soul as an intermediate rather than a final state for the righteous, and thus also adheres to bodily resurrection (as indicated by the fact that those whose souls are in the hands of God will subsequently rule the nations).

There were also some interesting literary explorations of intertextual possibilities for interpreting New Testament texts (regardless of whether these may have been in view by the author). Wright views the pair of disciples on the road to Emmaus  in the Gospel of Luke as Cleopas and his wife Mary. From there, he then finds connections and parallels both with Genesis (where another man and woman have their eyes opened, but in a different way) and with the story of Jesus in the temple at age 12.

I greatly appreciated how Wright articulated a vision for Christians expressing their faith in their workplaces in our postmodern context. Although my initial reaction to his postmodern recasting of the Emmaus story was disappointment, where he went after that – sharing a story of a visual artist who became a Christian, and then his own vocational journey – genuinely inspiring. And I found helpful his analogy between a critical realist approach (informed by Bernard Lonergan) and the experience of looking at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre through thick protective glass. We do not see things simply as they are, but neither do we merely see our own reflections, when seeking the historical Jesus. We ourselves and others around us end up reflected in our frame of vision. But we also catch clear glimpses of another enigmatic face as well.

I do want to say something about “reading” a book of this sort as an audiobook using the Libby app. It is very enjoyable to be able to “read” while doing other things, such as washing the dishes or riding a bicycle. But it is frustrating that the audiobooks accessed through the Libby app cannot be listened to through the sound system in one’s car. And I am certain there are things Wright said – sorry, wrote – that I would have written down and mentioned in this blog post if I were reviewing the print book. (Of course, I should acknowledge that I do have a copy of the print book – but it was sitting among my large collection of books that I am long overdue to review, and so I seized the opportunity to engage with the text in audio form rather than take even longer to get to it.) Like all media, including print books, this one has real advantages as well as some disadvantages. I’ll let readers of this review be the judge of whether listening rather than reading made my review less rich, less detailed, or less useful. But to judge that, you’ll need to read or listen to the book, and I encourage you to do so – and then to return here to share your thoughts!

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  • robrecht

    “… his view of apocalyptic language as no more literal than our language of ‘earth shattering’ events.”

    He’s not very convincing here, is he? I think the literal sense of the apocalyptic worldview enhances rather than detracts from deep symbolic meaning. A false dichotomy perhaps. Unless one is merely concerned with defending Jesus from cosmological error!

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      I think stronger ground can be found in the cosmological apocalyptic language of the Old Testament, which talks about things like the stars falling from the sky and rivers turning to sulfur when various empires are defeated, although none of that literally happens.

      • robrecht

        Agreed, but I also agree with most critical scholars that reconstruct their historical Jesuses as most probably expecting an imminent end of earthly kingdoms and inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          I also think Jesus was expecting an imminent inauguration of the kingdom of God, but that’s why the apocalyptic language can fit. If apocalyptic language is used prophetically in the Old Testament to describe big events in the regular flow of world history, there’s not necessarily a reason to think that same language is being used differently by Jesus.

          In other words, I think the use of apocalyptic language by Jesus probably fits more in the category of “big changes to the present world stage” than “end of the world,” with his most proximate concern being the destruction of Jerusalem.

          • robrecht

            Do you think Jesus was in error about the Roman empire being replaced by the Kingdom of God in the very near future?

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m not sure how much the replacement of the Roman Empire was on Jesus’ radar. I think this expectation becomes more fully developed in other NT writings, and eventually pagan Rome did give way to Constantine, so I guess it depends on what the expectations were as to whether or not anyone was mistaken about it.

          • robrecht

            I don’t know to what extent Jesus thought and spoke explicitly or specifically of the destruction of the Roman empire, but it’s destruction was at least implicit in Paul’s understanding of the Kingdom of God, the author of our earliest NT texts. Presumably this may also have been implicit in Jesus’ own ideas about the Kingdom of God. I imagine so.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I don’t disagree, but that speaks to the need to make sure we don’t bundle all of Jesus’ words about the kingdom, the return of the Son of Man, etc. all into one package.

            For instance, one of Jesus’ parables’ imagery strongly implies the displacement of the Roman Empire by the kingdom of God, and this is the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-34), which draws from OT apocalyptic imagery about the raising and toppling of empires, but also emphasizes the gradual nature of this phenomenon.

            I’m of the mind that Jesus foresaw an imminent conflict with Rome that Israel would lose and would constitute judgement on that generation. Beyond that horizon, he may have also seen the kingdom of God overthrowing the Roman Empire. I may be reading it that way because, historically, that’s how it worked out. But at the same time, the “Israel first, rest of nations later” dynamic with respect to both judgement and restoration is found in other NT writings as well.

          • robrecht

            Do you think Jesus or Mark, both, or neither saw the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans as the predicted coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk 8,38-9,1 14,62)?

            I think this might be Mark’s opportunitistic capitalization on contemporary events of his time and distortion of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. That makes me worry about how I may inadvertently do the same in trying to reconstruct the teachings of an historical Jesus.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I do think that’s what the gospels portray as Jesus’ view, yes, although it should be noted that, in this scheme, the destruction of the Temple is framed as liberating Israel from an oppressor, and it’s an action whose necessity Jesus is not especially happy about.

            As for whether it’s Mark or Jesus or both, I think this view is presented fairly consistently across gospels, and they’re the only sources I have for Jesus’ teachings. I feel comfortable ascribing them to the historical Jesus. It would place him more or less in the tradition of prophets before him.

          • robrecht

            I definitely do not want to put words in your mouth, but some people might interpret this historicizing hermeneutic as something like the following: The Kingdom of God comes in power in the form of the Roman legions in judgement of that generation to liberate Israel from oppression by the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Jerusalem aristocracy, the high priests, and the religion of temple worship.

            My concern with anything along those lines is that such an interpretation is also sowing the seeds of anti-semitism.

            Then a few centuries later the Kingdom of God eventually displaces the Roman Empire in the form of … what? The Roman Catholic Church?* I would imagine your view is more along the lines of the Kingdom of God represents a perennially liberating message of hope against any systemic oppression by any institution or ideology. Something like that perhaps?

            *But, getting back to my ridiculous historicizing caricature, the Roman Catholic Church would eventually be replaced by the Kingdom of God in the form of the Protestant Reformation, followed by the SS with their claim of “Gott mit uns,” followed by the American GIs in Normandy, and then Jacques Maritain and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the UN, eventually to be given a purely secular humanist interpretation by Jesus mythicist atheists. Sorry, I got a little carried away and couldn’t stop myself. Jesus’ literal but mistaken apocalypticism is starting to look a little more palatable.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Ok, I might not have followed the line of your questioning. I thought we were talking about what Jesus as a first century apocalyptic prophet might have meant by his apocalyptic language, at least as portrayed by the gospels.

            To wit, I think Jesus-in-the-gospels self-consciously sees an upcoming clash with Rome that will create a tribulation for Jerusalem that is unparalleled in her history, and this is the form of the judgement of God, which is also the OT perspective of the military disasters that befall Israel and, arguably, intertestamental literature. In other words, I see Jesus as -continuous- with this tradition. Jesus, for his part, would rather that Israel repented, followed his own path, and was saved. I suppose you could look back on this as being anti-semitic on the part of the gospel authors, but you also have to reckon with the fact that, from the gospel writers’ standpoint, this view is also pro-Israel. It so happens that the “good guys” and the “bad guys” the way they are presented here are both Israelites.

            You’d asked the question if Jesus was wrong about his apocalyptic expectations, and I believe he was not considering what I thought he expected played out, historically. That clash did happen, the Temple and accompanying power structures did fall, displaced by a pagan army.

            You are of course free to disagree that’s what the gospel writers are presenting or whether that accurately reflects what you believe the historical Jesus taught. You’re also free, even if you agree that’s what’s going on in the text, to disagree with their perspective or condemn it as anti-semitic. But that’s the perspective I think Jesus had, and it’s at variance with a Jesus who believes in a literal, fiery end of the world in his generation. That would seem to me to be -discontinuous- with the use of such language and I’d want to see more argumentation for it.

            But it seems like you might be criticizing me because I think this is what Jesus thought? That’s where I lost you.

            RE: The Roman Empire, historically, Constantine brought an end to pagan rule and declared Jesus to be Lord of the Roman Empire. Arguably, Paul et al could have seen this as the outcome of the growth of Christianity among the Gentiles. I’m in no way arguing that Constantine was some kind of idyllic avatar of Christian virtue, but once again, given the language the OT uses to describe political changes, I could see NT authors using the same language to describe a day when “the nations” bowed the knee to Jesus in the form of conversion. Obviously, that’s very speculative on my part.

            And Hitler was about as Christian as Richard Dawkins.

          • robrecht

            I do not think that Mark was anti-semitic, but I do think that he sowed the polemical seeds (which Matthew and John watered) of what would eventually become anti-semitism.

            I don’t think we can have much success in trying to get behind the portraits of Jesus as painted by the evangelists. As I read him, Mark may have thought the destruction of the temple was the beginning of the end in his own generation and I think he was indeed portraying Jesus as a prophet like Jeremiah (and much more) who predicted this. Whether that is an accurate representation of Jesus’ actual historical ministry … it certainly could be the case or it could be to some unknown extent Mark’s own attempt to make sense of who Jesus was.

            By the way, I was certainly not trying to imply that Hitler (or Jesus mythicists) was Christian. But he was attempting to set up a 1,000-year Reich and his SS did claim that ‘God was with them’ and they also persecuted Jews, as did Luther and many Christians before him.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            If that’s your take on Mark, you may need to extend that many centuries earlier.

            Take, for instance, Isaiah 9:8 – 10:4. It’s a severe indictment of Israel, particularly her leaders, by Israel. Would you say Isaiah is sowing the polemical seeds of anti-semitism?

            I guess what I’m getting at is, like I said, I find the language expressed in the gospels to be continuous with the OT and intertestamental literature that preceded them. I see the Jesus portrayed there to be continuous with prophets like we see in Isaiah. In both cases, we have an Israel that is described by her own prophets to be unfaithful at a -national- level primarily because of the corruption of her leaders, and the rank and file Israelites suffer as a result. This is a criticism that comes from within. I’m not sure how else they could describe that historical situation that could not be perceived as anti-semitic, although I think it’s unlikely that they are motivated by racial prejudices against Jews. They -appear- to be Jews who perceive a group of powerful Jews treating the non-powerful Jews badly and the nation displeasing their God as a result.

            How other people might use these text for fodder for their racism is certainly a big issue in history, but as we try to get to what these ancient authors were trying to communicate, I’m not sure that enterprise should be governed by what people later did with it. I very much share your concerns in that regard, but Israel indicting some groups within her who oppress other groups within her goes back a really long way. At least, the way I read it, which could obviously be wrong.

            A question I have for you is: if we can’t get at what Jesus thought via the gospels, do you have an alternative in mind? Or are you saying we should just avoid saying we know what Jesus taught about anything?

            Here is where you finally lost me:

            “I believe he was not considering what I thought he expected played out, historically.”

            That’s understandable since that’s a very tortuously worded sentence I wrote. I had to reread it several times to try to remember what I was trying to say.

            Basically, our whole discussion is around what Jesus might have meant when he used apocalyptic language. I’m of the mind that cosmological apocalyptic language is clearly used in the Old Testament to describe notable events on the world stage as opposed to more literal phenomena. The actual events that occur generally do not even come close to the over-the-top imagery used to describe them.

            Therefore, when you ask me if Jesus was “wrong” about such and such, that really comes down to what he was expecting. If he was expecting the end of the world and an idyllic eternal state in its place to happen within that generation, then obviously that would have been wrong because that’s not what happened. But I believe the use of apocalyptic language demonstrates that he was expecting concrete political outcomes to occur, like the destruction of Jerusalem and, possibly, the replacement of the Roman regime with one that he ruled. In concrete political terms, these things happened. So, if that’s what Jesus was expecting, then he was right.

          • robrecht

            I don’t think I ever implied that Wirkungsgeschichte is a way of determining the historical author’s intent. That is why I can maintain that Mark can engage in polemics without himself being anti-semitic.

            The main difference between Isaiah and Mark is that Isaiah’s followers did not eventually form a separate religion that would become a world power that would persecute and kill Jewish people by the millions. Nonetheless, yes, there are certainly also seeds sown by Isaiah that would eventually be used in an anti-semitic manner by others. Think, for example, of the Hebrew quotation of Isaiah 65,1-2 prominently displayed on San Gregorio’s facade across the street from the former Jewish Ghetto in Rome:

            Read a brief history here:

            There is certainly much in the gospel portraits of Jesus that reliably reflect the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. There are also some suspect elements of these portraits that deserve to be questioned and multiple plausible reconstructions of historical Jesuses that may have existed behind these portraits can be defended by scholars and others. That’s just the way history works.

            I wish I could devote more time to a proper response to your questions, but I’m trying to get ready for a weekend trip with my family. I’ve enjoyed our discussion so far.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m enjoying it, too, and I hope you have a great trip with your family!

            I’m not sure I agree that the political realities that replaced Rome couldn’t qualify as the kingdom of God in terms of what the imagery was shooting for. It was an end to persecution and an overthrow of the extant powers to be replaced by the lordship of Jesus Christ. Obviously, that kingdom was a long way from ideal, but no more so than other high points in Israel’s history.

            I also don’t think development in the Roman Catholic church or the Protestant Reformation really have any relevance to the issue. If, hypothetically, a Christian-dominant Rome was what Paul et al saw coming down the pike and described in apocalyptic language, then anything that happened after that would be off the radar. I think you might be attributing to me something like a Historicist view of Revelation or something, which I assure you I do not have.

            And that’s also what I think is a possible difference in how you and I are approaching the issue. I think we’re way past almost anything envisioned by that NT apocalyptic language (with the possible exception of the last sliver of Revelation that looks for a renewed heavens and earth with no death in it) and have been for some time. It’s just that we closed the canon. The church has continued to face new eschatological crises in the world with new hopes for the future, but those are not captured for us in Scripture anywhere.

            That doesn’t mean those images can’t be repurposed to describe, explain, and give meaning to later circumstances, but it does mean those particular circumstances are probably way outside of the expectations of the original audience. For instance, I’m comfortable describing any oppressive government as “the Beast,” but I don’t think that figure in the book of Revelation is meant to symbolize all oppressive governments in general in terms of the expectation of the author or audience.

          • robrecht

            No, I was not thinking of how you might interpret Revelation. I’m most interested in the use of Paul and the gospels. Since I do not think we can assume that the gospel of John is not even indirectly dependent of any of the synoptic gospels or parts thereof, I don’t think there is independent attestation of the temple ‘cleansing’ story. I therefore do not know how much of Mark’s portrait of Jesus is his own creative attempt to portray Jesus as a prophet like Jeremiah of old (and much more) or to what extent this view already existed prior to the Judaean War. Some very good scholars even consider the possibility that Mark may have known Q and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem, which can be dated as late as 70 CE. A minority position certainly, but nonetheless defensible by a few excellent scholars.

            I will think some more about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I’m of that mind as well.

          • John MacDonald

            robrecht said:

            One last thought. I do not think a canon should ever be closed. For me, the NT is the dux, which must inspire many more comites to come. Why stop the music?

            I first decided the canon should be left open when I realized the Gospels portrayals of Jesus were actually prophesies about me! lol

          • John MacDonald

            Phil said:

            , I think this view is presented fairly consistently across gospels, and they’re the only sources I have for Jesus’ teachings

            I think, though, we should acknowledge the issue that multiple attestation doesn’t necessarily mean independent attestation. For instance, the “Love Commandment” is present in all four Gospels, and Paul. Maybe this is because the Historical Jesus taught Love. But an emphasis on love in Matthew doesn’t mean an independent source, since Matthew read Mark. And, an emphasis on Love in John may simply mean John read one or some of the synoptics, or that some of the ideas from the synoptics were floating around John’s community when John wrote. As for the presence of the Love Commandment in Paul, maybe this goes back to the historical Jesus, or maybe it was Paul’s invention and Mark (having read Paul, or Paul’s ideas just floating around when Mark wrote) put Paul’s love commandment on Jesus’ lips. Or, maybe Cephas and the gang came up with the love commandment after Jesus died, and this is how Paul was exposed to the Love Commandment. And these plausible scenarios could go on indefinitely – as Postmodernism points out.

            In the post, James said:

            By the end of the book, Wright will emphatically assert the importance of the postmodern chastening of an Enlightenment approach, while calling Christians to engage fully and deeply with both without simply embracing either.

            Postmodernism rallies against the conception of Truth as certainty (freedom from doubt, birthed from Thomas to Luther, and canonized in Descartes), and operates by not being satisfied with what seems obvious, and trying to restore weight to ignored, marginalized, alternative paths. Didier Franck provides a useful summary of the genesis of modernism (the transition of verum into certum): “No doubt, Descartes transferred to the cogito what Saint Thomas, who placed certainty of faith above that of knowledge, attributed to divine science alone.” Further, Descartes took as his model Luther’s characterization of what had to be certain: certainty as freedom from doubt regarding the salvation of the soul, which left Descartes with the cogito as certain, that is, free from doubt. From there modernism blossomed beyond the antinomies of Kant (Either/Or), the dialectic of Hegel (BOTH/AND), and finally into postmodernism with destruction/deconstruction of Heidegger and Derrida (Neither/Nor).

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I agree multiple attestation does not mean independent attestation. But I have to go with what seems most probable to me, and just because someone can come up with a plausible alternative explanation does not mean that explanation is also probable, nor does the existence of multiple plausible alternatives mean I have to resign myself to complete agnosticism on the issue.

            It -does- mean that any claim I make carries risk, the recognition of which is one of the chief values of postmodernism. It means that, by adopting a knowledge claim, I’m betting on a horse. And I’m 100% with owning up to that to pretty much anything I say.

            But I disagree that the essence or chief value of postmodern thought is the encouragement to come up with all kinds of alternative scenarios and assigning equal credibility to all of them (or more credibility to them on the sheer virtue of being alternative). I’m not sure that’s what you’re saying, but if it is, I don’t agree and it would, in fact, have interesting ramifications for historical studies if we adopted that standpoint.

          • John MacDonald

            Postmodernism is basically about testing our assumptions to see if there are perspectives which are unfairly marginalized. For instance,in the past, and to somewhat of a degree today, it was “obvious” that that marriage was between one man and one woman. Over time, voices called out for the traditional understanding of marriage to be deconstructed because it was marginalizing LGBTQ individuals, and so marriage is beginning to be deconstructed/reconstructed in a more inclusive manner. Still, even this new definition may need to be retooled to include Poly-relationships (e.g., polyamory, polygamy, etc.).

            Derrida says that when we choose, it is a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, because in deciding to choose there is never enough time, precedence, information, because we can always be wrong, and there is the possibility of unintended violence. The point is to make our choices in humility, and always be ready to revise and refine our positions if new information comes to light. I like the way you said it:

            It -does- mean that any claim I make carries risk, the recognition of which is one of the chief values of postmodernism. It means that, by adopting a knowledge claim, I’m betting on a horse. And I’m 100% with owning up to that to pretty much anything I say.

            I didn’t mean that any interpretation goes – like the tomb was empty because aliens beamed up Jesus’ body and then the aliens regaled the disciples with holograms of Jesus, lol. My point was just one about humility and responsibility in our choices.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, we’re in complete agreement on that score.

            Whether I always do it well or not is a different story. 😉

          • John MacDonald

            And sometimes the evidence is more scant and ambiguous than we realize, and so polysemia can be a real possibility in certain cases.

          • John MacDonald

            robrecht said :

            I think this might be Mark’s opportunitistic capitalization on contemporary events of his time and distortion of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. That makes me worry about how I may inadvertently do the same in trying to reconstruct the teachings of an historical Jesus.

            That seems to be a common hermeneutic problem: How do we tell when Mark’s Jesus reflects the historical Jesus, and when Mark’s Jesus is just being hijacked and used as a mouthpiece for Mark’s theology. Philosophers encounter a similar problem when trying to untangle the historical Socrates from early Platonism.

          • robrecht

            And how do we know when we ourselves are are hijacking Jesus or Mark as a mothpiece for our own views? In the end, all we can really say for sure is what we think. I’m sure Jesus would agree with that!

          • John MacDonald

            I think the goal of Postmodernism is fundamentally ethical. As we begin to deconstruct the obviousness and certainty of our beliefs, ignored, marginalized voices are given space to emerge, grow and flourish.

          • robrecht

            Obviously Jesus would agree with that too! Just look at his prophesied deconstruction of the temple.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    WOW… 😀 Fascinating, most fascinating! ^_^ Your analysis of this book is so good, I think I’ll actually buy it! 🙂

  • John MacDonald

    James said:

    By the end of the book, Wright will emphatically assert the importance of the postmodern chastening of an Enlightenment approach, while calling Christians to engage fully and deeply with both without simply embracing either. From a Christian perspective, the historical quest is a crucial one, for the simple reason that we should not consider ourselves free to invent our own Jesus.

    After reading this post, I thought that some readers here who might not be familiar with Contemporary Continental Philosophy and Postmodernism might find useful an introductory explanation of Postmodernism and how it might be applied to biblical hermeneutics. You have to be careful about the secondary sources on Contemporary Continental Philosophy and Postmodernism out there because they are often rich in verbiage, but bereft of substance. Anyway, here is an introductory blog post I just did on how Postmodernism might be applied to Biblical Hermeneutics that may help:

  • John MacDonald

    James said:

    By the end of the book, Wright will emphatically assert the importance of the postmodern chastening of an Enlightenment approach, while calling Christians to engage fully and deeply with both without simply embracing either. From a Christian perspective, the historical quest is a crucial one, for the simple reason that we should not consider ourselves free to invent our own Jesus.

    Recent discussions I’ve had about Postmodernism has reawakened an interest in it in me. I’ve been reading Jacques Derrida’s 1964-65 lecture course he gave on Heidegger at the École normale supérieure in Paris, and it has really helped illumine for me a number of fundamental issues regarding Heidegger’s Philosophy.

    Just for fun, I took a look at my lecture notes for the seminar I ran in 2001 on Postmodernism during my Master’s year in Philosophy, and found a bunch of neat stuff in them. So, for anyone who is interested, I am going to do a few blog posts explicating Heidegger’s Postmodern Philosophy while blogging through Derrida’s 1964-65 lecture course on Heidegger. My first blog post about a preliminary understanding of Heidegger’s Philosophy is finished, and I just posted it here: .

    I hope anyone who has an interest in Postmodernism will stop by and have a little fun thinking along with Derrida and Heidegger!