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The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the…

The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth…

by Luke Timothy Johnson

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  CPI | Aug 8, 2016 |
Johnson is an outstanding biblical scholar and biblical theologian - the two are not necessarily the same - and, while this book has been around for a good while now, it has not lost its punch or its importance. Indeed I could only wish it were at the forefront of reading for every theological college responsible for the formation of those in the ministry and/or priesthood of the Church.

Actually Johnson had me rolling with laughter during his much-needed hatchet job on some somewhat specious forms of biblical interpretations. I'm not sure Johnson would have approved, but as someone is constantly dealing with the aftermath of those whose belief in anything transcendent has been systematically dismantled by men and women in ecclesiastical teaching roles, it was a relief to be reminded that there are in fact some internal consistencies in belief in a God who is a little bigger than the small meanderings of human investigation. I know one or two people who assure me that the Jesus Seminar or John Spong have restored their faith, but I never hear any clear articulation of their newfound faith: faith in what, exactly, beyond a sort of "religionity" or perhaps aggressive anti-fundamentalism. Johnson is no fundamentalist - nor am I (and I distance myself from one of the previous reviewers of this book) - but neither does he inhabit a universe in which human investigation is the final arbiter of possibility.

Which is why this is a pastoral book - apart from the therapeutic benefits of side-splitting, belly-wobbling laughter. When I stand with parents at the bedside of their dead child I want to represent far more than the rather passé suggestion that Die Sache Jesu geht weiter (the cause of Jesus goes on), as proposed by that great (and gentlemanly) liberal theologian, Willi Marxsen (see 138). Marxsen and the Jesus Seminar and Spong and Geering and others are often tarred with the same brush: delightful gentlemen (and women), but given to confusing niceness with the gospel. Johnson's "real" Jesus isn't particularly nice, as such, but his is a narrative that has for two millennia entered into human darkness, including the darkness of those holding the limp body of a loved child, and breathed resurrection hope.

The key to understanding Johnson is that "if the expression the real Jesus is used at all, it should not refer to a historically reconstructed Jesus" (167). The problem with such reconstructions, as Johnson hints over and again, is that they too often culminate in a Jesus who resembles all too closely the interests of the re-constructors. A feminist Jesus, a left-wing Jesus, a right-wing Jesus (for, as Johnson notes, fundamentalists too are trapped in the myopia of post-enlightenment prejudice), a gay Jesus, a nationalistic Hitlerian or American or Australian or .... the reconstructed Jesusses are innumerable if the interpreters stand judge over the narratives of faith and dictate which parts are real and which are to be jettisoned. Johnson would prefer the myriad if piecemeal glimpses of Jesus available to us in the rich texture of canonical scripture be allowed to speak, as they have spoken to believers (for Johnson is not proposing a phenomenological approach!) for two millennia. Johnson reclaims a theology of canon, seeing in the very process of formation of the canon not the machinations of an oppressive cabal but a ratification of works that spoke to and transformed human lives in the formative centuries of faith. Johnson even, as if but not tangentially, reclaims the place of the creeds, but addresses that question more completely in his subsequent work The Creed.

This book, in turns humorous and deeply profound, should be essential reading for every Christian pastor, priest, prophet, indeed every Christian who reads the scriptures. ( )
2 vote zappa | Apr 22, 2013 |
Very helpful in it's discussion of historicity.
  2wonderY | Jan 23, 2012 |
This is a very good book with only minor flaws in my opinion. First and formost it is a very good essay on methodology in Biblical research in general and in Jesus studies in particular. It is not quite as negative about 'Jesus studies' as the subtitle suggests, only about those which overemphasise the significance of their conclusions (first among which is the Jesus Seminar). John Meier gets a much more positive review. As the book was written in 1997 it canot take into acount the work of N T Wright and J D G Dunn in this area, both of whom are more methodologically aware and sophisticated than many of the authors he criticises, Dunn ('Jesus Remembered') in particular.

My only significant criticism is of Johnson's I think over sharp distinction between fath and history. Towards the end he almost begins to sound strangely like Bultmann in this respect. While Christian faith is not hounded on historical research. I think there are still ways in which the research feeds into faith, both generally (by showing the plausability of the Gospel story, even if it cannot demonstrate it in an absolute sense - no historical study can acheive that), and particularly in throwing light onto old questions, not to undermine but to enrich. ( )
2 vote TonyMilner | Feb 8, 2010 |
Very scholarly. The first part is pretty slow & hard to get through, but does a thorough rebuttal of many of the Jesus Seminar errors. Later chapters affirm reality of the now living Jesus, but are weak on scripture's ultimate authority & divine inspiration. This is the biggest flaw in the book I think. While weakly affirming truth & power of Jesus it seems to deny & distance itself from the full truth of the Bible. I would read this book with care & let it help you defend attacks on the Word, but then beware of accepting all the author says about correct interpretation of scripture, especially as he seems to float towards reinterpreting scripture in light of our day & age - as the Catholic church (author is Catholic) has in regards to Genesis & evolution for instance. ( )
  deferredreward | Jan 24, 2010 |
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