Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jesus of history or Christ of faith – Jesus of history and of faith and Christ of history and of faith?

As part of a class tomorrow on Luke's Gospel, which also involves looking at the question of the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith, I have jotted these thoughts down:

Gospel study raises important questions about history and about theology.

What can we know about Jesus as a historical person?  Are the gospels reliable guides to this knowledge? We ask these questions in the same way that we might ask them about Julius Caesar and about the writings attributed to him, or about Winston Churchill about whom much is written and who wrote much himself (indeed won a Nobel Prize for Literature).

What can we know about the theological significance of Jesus of Nazareth? For instance, what makes Jesus the Messiah (Christ)? On what basis do we understand that the human Jesus is the divine Son of God? If we propose that certain miracles, especially the miracle of the resurrection prove  the theological significance of Jesus, how do we know these miracles occurred (a re-litigating of the historical question above) and how do we know that miracles connect the historical Jesus to the theological Christ of our faith?

Questions of these kinds can be put in other ways. Does the history of Jesus make any difference to the Christ in whom we believe? If it turned out that (say) Jesus only fed 4999 men, is our faith worthless? (Answer: probably not). If it turned out that Jesus performed no feeding miracle, is our faith in vain? (Answer: probably, because miracles perform a role in the grounding of our faith in God’s activity in reality, compared with ideas about what God is like in a different ‘beyond reality’ existence). There is a connection between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, even if it is difficult to define that connection.  (To be slightly absurd, between 4999 men being fed and no men fed, what number would matter in respect of when faith faltered at the faultiness of the history taught to us?)

This connection was obvious to the church of the New Testament which readily identified the historical person Jesus of Nazareth with the anticipated Christ sent from God and renamed this person Jesus Christ.

In part our faith is the handing on of that faith which from the beginning recognised Jesus as the Christ (that is, refused to recognise Jesus as other than the Christ, and recognised no one else as the Christ).

In part our faith is the conviction, through reading the gospels in conjunction with the whole of Scripture that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God – that is, we read the gospels as living documents bearing witness – in a remarkable way, considering the ancientness of the gospels – to the real Jesus, the Jesus who was both the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, so that we read them as history and theology, biography and creed concerning Jesus Christ.

For some there may be another part: in some experience within our lives we have met the risen Jesus Christ (e.g. through vision or auditory experience) and then realised that the one we have met is the one we meet when we read the gospels.

What do you think?


Father Ron Smith said...

With regard to your questions here, Peter, I can only respond by remarking on the occasion when Jesus asks his disciples: "Who do YOU say that I am?". Peter, seemingly almost involuntarily, blurts out the truth that he has experienced (by faith?): "You are the Christ, Son of the living God!".

The point at issue here, is that Jesus then said that it was not 'flesh and blood' (empirical evidence?) that had informed Peter of this elemental truth about Jesus but God the Father Himself.

To my simple mind, this would seem that Jesus was affirming Peter's willingness to believe in Jesus, that had been rewarded with the 'Gift of Faith' that allowed Peter to announce Jesus' Messiah-ship - a gift received directly from the Triune God.

I'm reminded of the verse of an old hymn which says this:

"Experience will decide - how blest are they, and only they, who in His Truth confide". Peter obviously had attained to this 'experience'.

Bryden Black said...

Peter; I sense you deserve to have this powerful and delightful Conclusion of Richard Bauckham's posted under this thread. It is found on p.139 of his edited collection, The Gospel of John and Christian Theology (2006), being that first conference held at St Andrews.

The Fourth Gospel as the Testimony of the Beloved Disciple


In all four Gospels we have the history of Jesus only in the form of testimony, the testimony of involved participants who responded in faith to the disclosure of God in these events. In testimony fact and interpretation are inextricable; in this testimony empirical sight and spiritual perception are inseparable. If this history was in fact the disclosure of God, then to have the report of some uncommitted observer would not take us nearer to the historical truth but further from it. The concurrence of historiographical and theological concepts of witness in John’s Gospel is wholly appropriate to the historical uniqueness of the subject matter, which as historical requires historiographical rendering, but in its disclosure of God also demands that the witness to it speak of God. In this Gospel we have the idiosyncratic testimony of a disciple whose relationship to the events - and to Jesus - was distinctive and different. It is a view from outside the circles from which other Gospel traditions largely derive, and it is the perspective of a man who was deeply but distinctively formed by his own experience of the events. In its origins and in its reflective maturation this testimony is idiosyncratic, and its truth is not distinguishable from its idiosyncrasy. As with all testimony, even that of the law court, there is a point beyond which corroboration cannot go, and only the witness can vouch for the truth of his own witness. [ends]

His overall thesis goes much further than say Stephen Evans' The Historical Christ & the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational narrative as History (1996). But I expect you've encountered RB's massive and beautiful tome, which has upset so many basic NT Studies' assumptions!

Father Ron Smith said...

Concerning the learned treatises that occasionally appear within comments on this blog - as evidence of the contributor's great learning - might one suggest that one's own experience of the Living Christ is more important than that which is second-hand - exciting though that may be to 'add to the pot'.

This fact is able to help us more clearly understand that 'Reading the Scriptures' is not enough. One needs to 'read. mark learn and inwardly digest' the underlying message. The Word-made-flesh may not be found as a finite reality within the pages of any book.

Eucharistic worship helps us to actually imbibe the essence of the Living Christ - as He intended. In the context of the Eucharist, the written Word is able to take its proper place - as instruction, that points to the Incarnate Word.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Ron! Your rationale for the essential Anglican ministry of word + sacrament hits the bull’s eye. Of course, one of its prime presuppositions is exactly ... the Fourth Gospel, now beautifully expounded by Richard Bauckham.

Tim Chesterton said...

Ron, I find your last statement a little puzzling and a little disturbing. As most honest Christians will admit, powerful mystical experience is not given to everyone. Some seem to have a constant dynamic experience of the risen Christ, others have to make do with little spots of sunlight at very infrequent intervals. C.S. Lewis said that he was one such. I am another. I do know, however, that I have derived a great deal of enjoyment and spiritual sustenance from the writings of godly teachers whose precepts I have tried to put into practice in my life.

Nor would I wish to elevate my own little voice over the consensus of ancient fathers and doctors of the faith (which is, I always tout, what Anglicanism meant by the authority of tradition). This seems to me to be the epitome of hubris.

Finally, I have a problem with your use of the word 'fact' in paragraph 2. Your statement is not a 'fact' but an 'opinion'. It is certainly not shared by all Christians, even of your own tradition.

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Tim! Wholesome; very wholesome ...

And as for spots of sunlight: delightful of course! And are you aware there is a new bio coming out next year of CSL (50th of his death) from the pen of AE McGrath? Watch this spot!

Father Ron Smith said...

"Nor would I wish to elevate my own little voice over the consensus of ancient fathers and doctors of the faith (which is, I always tout, what Anglicanism meant by the authority of tradition)."
- Tim Chesterton -

Nor indeed, Tim, would I. It just so happens that the 'ancient fathers and doctors of the faith'
actually bear witness to what I have proposed: that there is no substitute for personal experience of the risen Christ in one's life.

Their understanding of Christ has come from their own experience of Him in their lives. One only has to read their treatises. Like Paul and the Gospel writers, they have a deep personal experience of the Living Christ. One cannot write or speak persuasively of the living Christ unless one has experienced the reality.

This experience is what separates the ancient fathers and mothers of the Church from some modern writers who are merely reiterating someone else's experience. This is not a matter of hubris, but rather a sense of wonder at the love and mercy of a God who reveals Him/Her-self to ordinary mortals who long to know Her/Him experientially in this transient life.

Jesus did say of the Eucharist, that this was an actual experience of sharing in His life. And I believe that.

I do agree with you, though; that what may be a 'fact' for one person, may be a mystery to others.

Bryden Black said...

I think it might be time to give the lie, Ron, to your customary antithetical stance regarding those who painstakingly seek due understanding of our Christian Faith (reference of course to that classic definition, fides quaerens intellectum). For the title of Peter’s thread is perfectly suited to this exposé.

As if it were not possible to integrate one’s encounter(s) with the Risen Lord Jesus and the New Life in the Spirit he grants which rises from within - especially as he begins in this current life that glorious transformation of our human nature the Eastern Church terms deification (so e.g. 2 Cor 3:18 and/or 2 Pet 1:4) - with those necessary human probings into the nature of the Christian Faith, which are an essential aspect of every Christian’s love of God. What an absurd appreciation of the reality of both humanity and its fulfilment in Christ Jesus to try to suggest such! Even Karl Barth, as quoted before here on ADU, correctly claims “every Christian as such is called to be a theologian”, “since the Christian life is consciously or unconsciously a witness [to] the question of the truth”. The only question thereafter has to do with how competent a theologian one might be?!

For just as the legacy of the Enlightenment sought to offset the Jesus of History from the Christ of Faith (hence Peter’s playful title), and the Fourth Gospel strenuously constructed its theology to deny the claims of two countering fronts at once, commonly known as Ebionite and Gnostic, so too any false or inadequate Christian mysticism on the one hand and any false or inadequate human rationalism on the other hand do not necessarily deny we may, as fully as possible even now, enjoy, body, soul and spirit, a fulsome, rich and deep integration of faith-&-understanding, of head-&-heart as we traverse our pilgrim way to the New Heaven and the New Earth.

“The scope of our art” (σκοπός; so Gregory Nazianzen of theologia), derived from that “holy school for all the world” which is the ‘reading’ of the Scriptures (so Athanasius), especially via such steps as those proposed by one Guigo II’s ‘Spiritual Exercise’ of lectio divina—all this engenders BOTH Christ’s mediation of the Holy Presence of God deeply and sincerely AND the possibilities of due human understanding, as this Triune God “accommodates” (Calvin) himself to our human realities in “grace and truth” (John). Nor should this actually surprise us at all: for this IS salvation, in faith, hope and love!

So Ron; I’d wish for you to accept, as the goodly Franciscan you claim to seek to be, to honour the likes of Francis’s co-frère, St Bonaventure - et al! Neither you nor I have any monopoly whatsoever upon how or why the “Courteous Good Lord” (Julian) graciously shines those “little spots of sunlight” he does into our lives. So to conclude, with CS Lewis, surely one of the greatest Christian apologists of all time: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen - not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” [“Is theology poetry?”] This too is both my experience and my understanding, and indeed my “evaluation” (Lonergan) of them both together!