Let me tell you about my trip to Stratford Ontario, the home of great drama, where I encountered a bunch of very reasonable Jesus people. I’ve written before about my trips into Charasmatic Christianity. So, in my search for left brain/right brain balance - this was a trip into the world of logical, reasonable – even historically scientific -Christianity. The SnowStar institute offered five lectures from John Dominic Crossan a top Biblical historian who I’d heard before and really enjoyed.
The guy spent nearly twenty years as a Catholic monk training his mind and studying the Bible. He stepped out of the priest box in 1969 (a year with a record number of de-frockings) but continued his journey into scholarship. His 1991 book “The Historical Jesus” struck a chord across the world with people looking to separate the Myth from the Man. Scholars such as Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, and Robert Funk collaborated on an effort to historically analyze the scriptures under the umbrella of what was called “The Jesus Seminar”.
One of the first things I noticed about this gathering was that I was among some very prodigious readers. It also seemed like most of them were folks of an age where there are no children to put to bed or clocks to punch. These folks have lived through an age where science and religion became opponents in a battle for the hearts and minds of a generation. Science was coming up with all kinds of answers that just didn’t fit into the Bible’s religion boxes any more.
In the five lectures he gave within 25 hours Crossan helped us look at another great divide. He showed us how there are two competing visions of God in the Bible. The divide isn’t just between the angry, vengeful sky God of the Old Testament and the gentle, forgiving God of the New Testament. In fact these two Gods are presented throughout the Bible from Genesis to the Revelation.
The God of Retributive Justice is the God who, just like human Empire, uses violence to achieve peace. Whether dropping people in their tracks for their sins or bringing foreign nations against Israel to teach them a lesson, this God is very real and very current. Instead of just discounting this God as a mistake, Crossan points out how human it is to call on a God of vengeance when all else has seemingly failed. “O God, we’re ready for justice – bring it on swiftly.”
For a scholar Crossan is very animated. His humility gives him an Irish charm (“People are still asking me about The Historical Jesus. I wrote that in 1991. I’ve had a few new thoughts since then.”) He puts the extremely serious business of justice into a very human, and so -humorous - dilemma.
The other vision of God, Jesus presents as a non-violent God concerned with Distributive Justice. The community of Jesus was a revolutionary reaction to the ways of Empire. Empire uses violence to achieve peace; wealth to divide and control people based on their differences. Jesus presents a nonviolence movement that plants organic communities of radical acceptance and the fair distribution of God’s gifts.
These two visions of God represent two visions of human nature. Is it human nature to organize society into powerful and aggressive forces that seek to eat or be eaten; kill or be killed; conquer or be conquered? Or, is it possible for humans to organize peaceful distribution systems that remove the need for aggressive armed forces? Do we need God to act through avenging armies on an ever-escalating and eventually apocalyptic force? Or, do we need God to plant seeds of organic communities that are not afraid to radically share with their “enemies”?
While my experience is that God moves only in the latter ways, I must confess that there are many days when I believe that the Human race will suffer the fate of the Spruce Bud Worm. That we’ll continue to consume the planet until we eat ourselves out of house and home. Even while I believe this about humans, I choose to follow God’s path of nonviolent generosity.
Crossan says that only a “Transcental leverage” can turn human history around. He has stripped the biblical stories of metaphor, myth, and mystery and yet he still calls upon something greater than humans to act. From his hands, I find hope in the possibility of a renewed-old story of God acting and collaborating with us.
But in the hands of others, his science becomes less palatable. The speakers that followed Crossan over the next 24 hours, used his knife to take Transcendance out of the story. They have a purely human story to tell.
We know Jesus as an amazing Wisdom teacher they say, but definitely not a living Christ. They have scientifically dissected the Gospels using historical premises to reduce what is “knowable” about Jesus to the “Q’ sayings –basically an abbreviated version of the Sermon on the Mount with a few parables thrown in.
These Humanists are fond of a mantra that goes “separate what is knowable from what is not.” They also say things like “We’re in the 21st Century now. We don’t need Myths to explain things anymore.”
Human tragedy seems to be part of the story here. Over the three days I came into contact with several stories of lost children or accumulating tragedies that demanded answers. The questions are along the lines of “Why would God take my child?” and the answers seem to be either a) “I want nothing to do with that God” or b) “If God is not in control of such things – there is no God.”. So they come together and say, “lets see what we can do as earnest, caring people without God.”
(There is another answer to that question. But it comes from a cosmology with Satan in it. So that’s not going to work if you’ve already given up on God. How about a seeing a cosmos that doesn’t run like clockwork within scientific laws but is chaotic – full of chance and flukes and synchronicity? God is not in control but instead – very influential. God is not all-powerful but instead - all-loving. My experience in life tells me that Evil is as real as Love and that Nature has as much free-will as I do. Before blaming God, I look to what else is powerful in this cosmos.)
These are folks who have chosen a different path. They have been down what they call “the Pauline road to God” and got hurt by tragedy. Others have been knocked down by human beings wielding God. They have turned back and found another road. It’s a road where humans are disarmed of God’s power and righteousness and left only with reason to rule their hearts. The simplicity of this road definately has some appeal. It’s very reasonable. It’s very positive. It’s also pretty boring (to me) and way too intellectual to ever be very popular.
While my mind got fed on the road with these leaders, my soul stayed hungry. There was no music or worship in those 3 days. Lots of laughs but no art. David Galston, one of our presenters, is a United Church Minister who leads his people very nicely thank you, he says, without a living Jesus. He claims that his congregation links both heart and mind. Then he admits that he finds no time to meditate but does somehow manage time to read. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Did you ever dissect a frog in Biology class? You cut and peel the flesh back to reveal the bones. Then you find the heart, liver, and stomach where life once pumped. The guts of Jesus have been examined by these biblical scientists. Where Crossan performs an operation on the Bible removing cancer, these Humanists are performing an autopsy on a patient first pronounced dead. Crossan sews the frog back up and waits to see if it’ll still jump.
When I asked Crossan during a question period whether he would consider writing a history of Paul’s invisible friend – the Holy Spirit – perhaps history’s most influential character? He answered with a parable.
That’s the Jesus I’m following. The one that’s three leaps ahead and just when I think I’ve got him in my grasp – he gives me the slip and jumps in the pond – a very deep pond.