I have been re-reading NT Wright’s chapter on the “The Surprise of Resurrection” in Jesus: the final days, where he corrects some doubtful christian ideas about the resurrection, and offers reasons why we should regard the gospel accounts as basically historical.
How much do you and I know about Jesus? How much of it is really the truth about him?
The obvious answer is that we know more about him than most ancient figures, because we have quite a few accounts of his life and teachings. But everyone seems to read them differently.
In my previous post, Which Jesus did you worship this Christmas? I outlined a number of alternative depictions of Jesus common today, and suggested we should be wary of fully embracing any of these pictures of Jesus, for they all seem to be slanted in some way.
So can we know the real Jesus?
The young adults in the group we lead asked us what it means to follow Jesus in 2018. The study and discussion took us in some interesting directions.
This is what we learnt together.
The facts about Jesus are clearly stated in the gospels, and they don’t change, but people have so many different understandings of him. The Catholic Jesus or Orthodox Jesus is not the same as the evangelical Protestant Jesus, or the Jesus of liberal Protestant theologians.
I think there is probably some truth in all portraits, including that Jesus was a prophet, and a social and religious radical. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of women and social outcasts.
As Simon the Pharisee discovered when he invited Jesus to a banquet and discussion …..
A couple of weeks back I reviewed Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, a book I have found revelatory about Jesus. I have gained many helpful insights from it.
Today, some new understandings about one of my favourite gospel accounts – Jesus in the synagogue at the start of his ministry, when he made clear what he was on about.
I have learnt so much that has helped me make better sense of the gospels and of my faith (although I am certainly not claiming to be like Maria in the Counting Crows song, Round Here, who says she is “close to understanding Jesus”!)
Let me tell you why I am so enthused.
This post is a revised version of my 2014 post The new Reformation.
Martin Luther is examined for heresy.
500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, and, it is often said, began the Protestant Reformation.
40 years ago I came to the conclusion that the church in the western world was, in the next few decades, going to go through changes as significant as the Reformation. I felt we had moved away from the truth in several important areas – inward looking and hierarchical churches with structures that hinder rather than help the mission of Jesus, dead orthodoxy in many christians’ lives (including me), and failing to heed Jesus’ teachings on non-violence, acceptance and the perils of wealth – and God surely wouldn’t allow this to continue unchecked.
I think we are now in the middle of this new reformation, and here are some of the signs I see.
As a young christian I was told that the love God has for us, and the love he wants us to have for others, is a self-giving love, for which the New Testament writers used the Greek word agape. This understanding was reinforced by reading the CS Lewis book, The Four Loves, which spoke about the following Greek words:
- eros – romantic or sexual love (this word isn’t found in the New Testament);
- storge – natural affection, as in a family (not used in the New Testament in this form, but used 3 times in compound words);
- philia – friendship (this word and its derivatives is used many times in the New Testament);
- agape and agapao – self giving love (by far the most common word for “love” in the New Testament).
Preachers, authors and bloggers still have the same understanding today, and sometimes build take-home lessons on the difference between philia and agape.
But it seems that the meaning of agape may not be as distinct as we have been told, and the two words may not have had very different meanings back then.
The church I attend is part of a denomination which, based on the teachings of Paul, doesn’t allow women to be the senior minister in a congregation or to preach to a mixed gender audience.
A few weeks back a young woman, bare-headed and wearing casual clothes, led the prayers in the Saturday evening service we attend. Immediately afterwards, the Bible was read, and the passage from 1 Corinthians 11 included this statement:
“every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”
Then a few weeks later, a young women read the Bible passage for that day, from 1 Corinthians 14, which included this:
” Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak”