Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Historical Jesus, the Christ of Faith and the Simpsons

If anyone wants to understand postmodern views of Christianity then watching the Simpson's is a necessary task. Ned Flanders is the most visible face of Christianity to a larger number of unchurched persons (like it or not). Most conversations that I had with non-Christians when I was in the Army often started with the Simpsons and with Ned Flanders. Young solidiers were watching the show and they had questions about Ned and ideas about religion stimulated by watching the show.

This afternoon I was watching one particular episode (Lisa the Iconoclast) where Lisa uncovers the truth about Jebediah Springfield who was not a benevolent American folk hero but a former pirate who tried to kill George Washington (so it goes). And yet at the end of it she is unable to debunk the myth because she sees that the Jebediah myth is a great source of community spirit, pride, and hope to her fellow Springfieldians. I remember thinking: my gosh, this is the Jesus of History vs. Christ of Faith debate being played out again in Simpson's mode. The idea of a "noble lie" or "magnificent myth" as the foundation of the community's values goes back to Plato and his Republic. Here's a few reflections:

1. There is and must be a discontinuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, since the Christ who is worshipped is not merely a crucified criminal but is the exalted and ascended Lord.

2. James Dunn contends that the centre of the NT is the identification of the historical Jesus with the exalted Christ and so necessitates a link between Jesus and Christ in some form. For Bultmann the question of the relationship between Jesus and the exalted Christ was the driving question of his NT Theology. Although Bultmann's failings were manifold and many, I think he was asking the right question at this point.

3. I would maintain that, with Kasemann and Byrksog among others, that for Paul the one who is Kurios (Lord) is also ho stauromenos (the one crucified) and shows that the historical Jesus was properly basic to the faith of the early church and that post-easter enthusiasm did not eradicate the link between Galilee/Golgotha and the heavenly Christ.

4. A study of the historical Jesus is necessary precisely because history is the theatre of God's activities and as such Christianity cannot rest on a "mangificent or noble myth" for that very reason.

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