Theological Conference 10 – Looking for the Historical Jesus

Click here to listen to Looking for the Historical Jesus: In Between Evangelical and Liberal Scholarship presented by Sean Finnegan, Apr 29th 2008, Atlanta Georgia. To read the paper, which is much more extensive than the audio presentation, click here. Commentary by John Obelenus

Sean tells us a story of a girl he met in Borders. He was unable to give her a good introductory book to the Christian faith. He knew the kinds of books on the shelves: the evangelical ‘Jesus-is-God’ type, and the liberal ‘there are no miracles-Jesus is a failed prophet’ type. We need to find a middle road between these two, as they both offer good points and bad points.

He starts with the good news about evangelical scholarship:

  1. The existence of God (Peter Kreeft, Alvin Plantinga)
  2. The resurrection of Jesus proves the Christian God exists (William Lane Craig)
  3. Textual criticism proves the New Testament to be reliable (AT Robertson)
  4. Historical studies show that the gospels are reliable accounts of fact, specifically Luke as a writer (FF Bruce).
  5. The gospel accounts do not read like fables, but rather eye witness accounts by the traditional authors even though they disagree at points (Richard Bauckham, Craig Blomberg)

Next he moves on to the bad news about evangelical scholarship, basically the built in limitations. They are committed to tow the party line by validating their truth instead of discovering truth. Specifically this comes in two forms; (1) the deity of Jesus, and (2) the definition of the Kingdom of God. And if the orthodox view is wrong, they can never be correct because of their presuppositions.

On we move to the good news of liberal scholarship:

  1. There is no limitation. We can use the best of all our research tools, history, archeology, sociology, languages to find out what was really going on in the first century.
  2. They support our understanding of the coming Kingdom wholeheartedly. (John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman)
  3. They show us that Jesus is an apocalypticist (through baptism by John the ultimate apocalypticist), placing him in historical context. (Dale Allison, Bart Erhman)
  4. Jesus belongs firmly within the Judaism of the first century (EP Sanders, John Hick)

Finally the bad news of liberal scholarship:

  1. Jesus is a failed prophet because of his crucifixion, and the lack of the Kingdom coming.
  2. Miracles don’t happen therefore Jesus was not raised from the dead.

Ultimately Sean challenges us to combine the best of both of these worlds, putting together Jesus Kingdom dream of the future the liberals can tell us without any limits, with the miracles and existence of God. This climaxes with the resurrection where the future age breaks into this current evil age to show us all a glimpse of what we hope for, proving miracles and God’s existence.

In conclusion he writes: “Any movement that hopes to survive must have its identity clear. Our very existence as an independent stream of theological thought depends on this… At a foundational level, we are restorationists who are on a quest to understand and practice primitive Christianity… We are on an expedition whose destination is not a place but an understanding… Then we need to sort out how to live for God in our post-enlightenment, post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything culture. In this endeavor, we have much to learn; there are many unanswered questions. We may not have all the answers, but we do have some answers. The gospel of the Kingdom and the creed of Jesus have been recovered (among other things). Shall we now hide them under a basket? May it never be!”

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