Rev. Brian Krushel
Every year, just before Easter, Maclean’s usually runs a cover story that has something to do with faith or religion or spirituality. It is often provocative or controversial and this year was no exception.
A stereotypical picture of a long hair, bearded European looking Jesus cut up into puzzle pieces appears on the cover alongside a question printed in large block letters: Did Jesus Really Exist? That’s certain to garner some attention and sell a few magazines!
The article uses the most recent research into memory and recall to ask the question of what might have been the original events of Jesus’ life and the actual words of his mouth that were later written down, words and stories which, as they appear in the New Testament, are thought by many Christians to be indisputable.
But for an ever increasing number of progressive Christians, the questions and claims raised by Maclean’s are nothing new, nor are they very contentious.
What has come to be known as “the quest for the historical Jesus” dates back to the mid-1800s and has seen several revivals since. The most recent quest involved the work of the Jesus Seminar, a group of about 150 scholars that was active in the 1980s and 90s.
The findings that Maclean’s reports adds a new dimension to this quest. Knowing that memory is a quite malleable and easily shaped and influenced, what does that do to the accuracy and validity of the New Testament writings which were composed anywhere between 30 and 80 years after the death of Jesus?
Skeptics might say that it negates their authenticity and reliability and reduces them to nothing more than fanciful tales or imaginative legends.
Others take a more reasoned and less pessimistic approach, seeing nothing about the conclusions of this research that contradicts the New Testament claim that Jesus is the Christ and a unique revelation of God.
For these folks, faith is not merely a matter of the head, some intellectual exercise that can be proved or disproved by point and counter-point debate. Faith is a matter of the heart, it is has more to do with trust, and is a way of being and seeing that changes us and the way we are in the world.
Progressive Christianity has never been big on a literal readings of the scriptures. The fact that things may not have occurred exactly as reported in the New Testament has never been much of a challenge, in fact, it might even bolster our faith that much more. If it can be shown that the testimony of the writers differs from what exactly happened, doesn’t that – paradoxically and in light of this memory research – make it more credible, “realistic” and reliable?
The precise detail of most any particular historical event is not ultimately what makes it important, but what that event comes to represent and how it is remembered. It is the meaning that we draw from an event that makes it significant.
“Did Jesus really exist?” is a provocative question that raises many questions and creates all sorts of great discussion but it is not a question whose answer causes our faith to stand or fall.
It helps us to know better the content of our faith, discover its subtle nuances, and deepen our appreciation of the Holy. That is very valuable. Honest inquiry always is.
– Rev. Brian Krushel is pastor/priest/minister of the Trinity Shared Ministry in Clearwater.