The Jesus We’ll Never Know: Scot McKnight

In the times prior to my conversion I read a lot of material about the historical Jesus, by the way with great interest but something was not quite alright.

McKnight, author of the article quoted below and one of the historical Jesus researchers himself makes the comment:

Furthermore, these scholars by and large believe in the Jesus they reconstruct. During what’s called the “first quest” for the historical Jesus, in the early 20th century, Albert Schweitzer understood Jesus as an apocalyptic Jesus. In the latest quest, Sanders’s Jesus is an eschatological prophet; Crossan’s Jesus is a Mediterranean peasant cynic full of wit and critical of the Establishment; Borg’s Jesus is a mystical genius; Wright’s Jesus is an end-of-the-exile messianic prophet who believed he was God returning to Zion. We could go on, but we have made our point: Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was really like and orient their faith around that reconstruction.

The comment very much resounds my own sentiments when reading these studies: could it maybe be that we are creating out own desired reality. If, as we may suppose, historical research departs from the same methodologies, should the outcomes not be more alike? Yet very similar to the students mentioned in the first lines of this article, it appears that the historical methods lead to similar results: a Jesus construct that is potentially more who we want him to be or a Jesus construct that is in our own likeness.

In his closing paragraph McKnight comes to the same conclusions I had to admit to myself prior to conversion: at some point methods run out of steam and energy. And where McKnight makes this point for historical research, I think it is not that dissimilar for other disciplines as well. Simply put perhaps we should start to be more open about the limitations of our methods and about what exactly it is they can and cannot prove. Most of all about our own potential biases prior to any research as they may influence our findings or lead us to conclusions that are no longer carried by our findings.
No matter how I look at it: science an the human sciences included are all involved in telling us about the supernatural from a position of limitation to the natural and natural explanations. So, let’s try to be honest about this limitation, which in my view is exactly the strength of science and leave the rest to our own non-scholarly experience and doctrinal understandings, as an individual and a church as well as a community of researchers.

On a personal basis: it seems to be that the best way to get to know Jesus, God, has proven to be the opening up for a relationship again.  Of course that goes outside any methodological realm but at the same time science can at no time go where the Holy Spirit may take us, whether that is measurable or not, it seems to me that that’s the most secure way to fill up the blanks.

Who needs faith when science and history could ‘prove’  it all. At the same time I acknowledge that it is exactly science and  historical method that provided me the (rational) basis I needed for my faith.


The Jesus We’ll Never Know

Why scholarly attempts to discover the ‘real’ Jesus have failed. And why that’s a good thing.

On the opening day of my class on Jesus of Nazareth, I give a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. The results are nothing short of astounding.The first part is about Jesus. It asks students to imagine Jesus’ personality, with questions such as, “Does he prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?” and “Is he a worrier?” The second part asks the same questions of the students, but instead of “Is he a worrier?” it asks, “Are you a worrier?” The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus. Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.Since we are pushing this point, let’s not forget historical Jesus scholars, whose academic goal is to study the records, set the evidence in historical context, render judgment about the value of the evidence, and compose a portrait of “what Jesus was really like.” They, too, have ended up making Jesus in their own image.

Read the rest of this very commendable article at The Jesus We’ll Never Know | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

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