[*] 2 of 3: Who was Jesus?

The reason I started to provide posts about Wright’s small book was really that he makes some extremely good evangelical points as he writes there, dismissing what he himself calls advocates of “a Jesus of their own imagining”. But the greater reason, I think, to start looking at Wright’s work from this place and this book in particular is that his #1 concern is for us to do something which some of the dissenting voices I link to on this page are not very clear about.

In the last installment of this topic on this blog, I listed 5 questions Wright lists as critical to the question of “Who was Jesus?” Wright makes this point about these questions:
    These, I suggest, are the question which ought now to be addressed in serious historical study of Jesus. They are also the starting-point for the serious theological study of Jesus. It will not do, as we have seen many writers try to do, to separate the historical from the theological. ‘Jesus’ is either the flesh-and-blood individual who walked and talked, and lived and died, in first-century Palestine, or he is merely a creature of our own imagination, able to be manipulated this way or that.
    (Who was Jesus?, 18)
I’d be excited to see someone argue otherwise, but it is clear to me that here Wright is throwing down a very conservative – somewhat radically-conservative – view of Jesus who we call Christ. That view is 100% in-line with the view Paul espouses in 1Cor 15 when he says:
    12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Sure: Paul is here talking about the resurrection as a historical fact, but Wright is taking that point and applying it more broadly to the person who was, in fact, raised from the dead on that first “Easter” Sunday. Wright is saying that whatever theology we are espousing, we must be true to the person and work of this person called Jesus.

Well, holy mackerel. You mean N.T. Wright makes an ad fonts claim regarding how we ought to think about our theological systems? How can that be? Hasn’t he read Derrida or De Mann? What does he think history is, anyway?

He thinks history is a set of actual events, as it turns out – that we, in whatever well-meaning manner we might participate in, sometimes forget about for the sake of some argument we are making. In that, Wright says this:
    Jesus himself, on the strictly orthodox view, laid himself wide open to misunderstanding, ridicule, abuse and even death. The church has no vested interest in preventing people from coming up with new ideas about Jesus. Indeed, I shall myself be arguing … {that} the real, historical Jesus still has many surprises in store for institutional Christianity.
    (Who was Jesus?, viii)
In the last installment, I’m going to cover what Wright summarizes to be a short list of those surprises as a kind of foundation for future discussions of Wright’s work, and to what degree he sticks to his own assertions. But here let me say this: the claims that Wright makes in this book are no more or less foundational in epistemology than those made by James White, Eric Svendsen, or any of the historical/grammatical critics I link to in this blog. The matter of what constitutes “new ideas” is probably one which deserves deeper investigation, and I concede that here for the sake of time and space.

It is possible that I have misread Wright, and that his claims are not foundational in nature. However, his appeal here is to a kind of truth that only the foundationalist considers: that is, the historical, objective truth of some particular which is thereafter transmitted to us via language. There is no doubt that Wright places value on “community” – particularly “faith community”. The question is whether he believes that is it right to allow the community to influence to transmission of history, or if the transmission of history ought to challenge and shape the community.

Here I think it is the latter. Stay tuned for the final installment.