Subscribe to Christianity Today
By C. Stephen Evans
Can the New Jesus Save Us?, Part 1
Bob Dylan told us that you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. These days you don't have to be a biblical scholar to know that the historical Jesus enterprise is prospering. Cover stories in "Time" and "Newsweek," articles in local newspapers, and a flood of hot-selling books tell us "He's ba-a-a-ack." Not Freddie Krueger and not the Jesus worshiped and adored by the church, but the scholars' Jesus, the Jesus who is reconstructed by New Testament experts and ancient historians. These scholars claim their Jesus is the historical Jesus, the real Jesus, to be distinguished from the Jesus of myth or dogma who is the product of the church.
This is the third such "quest for the historical Jesus" in the span of roughly 150 years. The nineteenth century gave us the original quest, a project widely believed today to tell us more about the questers than about the actual Jesus. This original quest was finished off at the turn of the century by Albert Schweitzer's devastating "The Quest of the Historical Jesus," which argued that the actual Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who was utterly different from the ethical teacher beloved by liberal theology.
For several decades, the project of reconstructing the "historical Jesus" lay dormant as a result of a strange alliance of liberals and some conservatives, who agreed on the necessity for a distinction between "the Christ of faith" and the "Jesus of history." These conservatives thought it was the church's task to proclaim the former; the work of Bultmann had shown liberals that the latter was beyond recovery.
However, it is hardly surprising that work on the historical Jesus eventually resumed as the "new quest" among Bultmann's former students and others. After all, the Christ of faith the church proclaims was a historical figure who "suffered under Pontius Pilate." And skepticism about the possibility of knowing the historical Jesus could hardly endure among scholars trained to investigate such things; ...