In the last two hundred years there has been a new type of quest amongst the Christian scholars. Just as critical approaches were taken to studying documents of history this approach was extended to the Biblical text also. The mood and shift in emphasis is explained well by Thomas Sheehan in 'The First Coming' where Sheehan explains the new approach as centering around 5 key tasks:
- Establishing the correct text of the New Testament
- Isolating the original sources of the Gospels
- Reconstructing the environments of the first Christian communities.
- Tracing the development of Christology in the early church.
- Interpreting the relevance (or irrelevance) of early Christian beliefs for men and women of today.
This type of investigation, that was occuring in multiple places in the early 19th century, is the root of the current upheaval in Christian theology. The results of these studies were virtually in agreement that the Gospels were not neutral historical accounts of the events that occured 2000 years ago. It became clear that the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history were separate beings and so began the "quest for the historical Jesus".
To download or view more extracts from Sheehan click here
Through the Gospels there are conflicting statements about the things Jesus said and did. Some of them on key areas such as his real position and status:
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
but in the gospel of Matthew:
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ,the Son of the living God."
The Gospels and their formation
Christianity - Why Christianity Must Change or Die - Spong
John Shelby Spong is a controversial Episcopalian priest considered by the mainstream as a radical.Spong’s 1998 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, is extremely popular. In this book Spong made a call for wide ranging reforms and proposed a blueprint for a 'new' Christianity for the modern age.
Spong calls for many changes to way we view God in the post -Newtonian, post-Galilen world. A reinterpretation of miracles, of the creation of the universe, of the position of God. The areas of interest here are his calls for the shedding of the blood atonment of the Crucifixion and the reformation of the incaranation of God in Jesus.
"It is my conviction that such a moment is facing the Christian world today. The very heart and soul of Christianity will be the content of this reformation. The debate which has been building for centuries has now erupted into public view. All the past ecclesiastical efforts to keep it at bay or deny its reality have surely failed and will continue to do so. The need for a new theological reformation began when Copernicus and Galileo removed this planet from its previous supposed location at the centre of the universe, where human life was thought to bask under the constant attention of a humanly defined parental deity."
Extracts of Spong's writings outlining the main 12 points for his debate with the Christian world can be downloaded and read here
Myth of God Incarnate
"In the 19th century Western Christianity made 2 major new adjustments in response to enlargements of human knowledge..it accepted that the books of the Bible were written by a variety of human beings in a variety of circumstances & cannot be accorded a verbal divine authority."
In the opening essay, "Christianity without Incarnation" Maurice Wiles shows that the question of the Incarnation of God in Jesus in a "Proper", "Necessary" and "Constructive" question. He comments:
"But when one is asked to believe something which one cannot even spell out at all in intelligible terms, it is right to stop and push the questioning one stage further back. Are we sure that the concept of an incarnate being, one who is both fully God and fully man, is after all an intelligible concept?
The collection of essays represents perhaps the most indepth and frank discussion of the issue of Christ's divinity and comes to the conclusion that the view of Jesus as an a literal incarnation of God is untenable and not what the teaching of Jesus originally was at all. Contributions are from:
Don Cupitt - University Lecturer in Divinity and Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambrdige
John Hick- John Hickis H. G. Wood Professor of Theology in the University of Birmingham. [more]
Orthodoxy and the Apocryphal Gospels
In the forward to "Saving the Savior" Dr Fida Hassnain states:
"We have about 26 gospels, 7 acts and 10 epistles that were already known to the people when the four so-called authorized Gospels were written."
These texts that were decided not to be included as part of the official 'canon' are referred to as the "Apocryphal Gospels" and include The Gospel of Thomas,Peter, and Nicodemus.
What do these texts say about Jesus that lead to them being excluded?
In summary, we have presented examples from different Christian congregations and viewpoints. This demonstrates that, at this very moment in history, there exists a huge struggle within Christianity, and there is no longer unanimity of opinion regarding the nature of Jesus Christ or the fundamental teachings of Christianity.
The separation of the historical Jesus from the theological Jesus is of great importance to this website. Once Jesus is viewed as a mortal messenger sent to the Jews as their Messiah then possible questions about his post-crucifixion life and 'missing youth' naturally occur. Whilst the Jesus of theology ascended in to heaven, what became of the Jesus of history?
This is a large area of study and other areas of research that have not been elaborated here include:
- The Jesus Seminar [more]
- Gnostic Christianity [more]
- Similarities between Christian theology and the Mystery religions of the Greeks [more]