Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Do Most Americans Think Jesus Did?

I find this fascinating. On one of the blog sites I follow via RSS, the Friendly Atheist, the author shared a video of a secular Jew telling what she knows about Jesus' life by piecing together bits from Christmas stories specials (which I admit, I haven't seen many of, if at all...) and the trailer for the Passion of the Christ. Here's a link to the page: A Secular Jew Explains the New Testament

Now, before perhaps a Christian shrugs it off before looking at: Yes, I know it's a semi-impromptu synopsis of the Gospels and NOT the New Testament, but just remember, the blogger Hemant's expertise isn't in the biblical texts. And that's fair enough since he doesn't claim to be (and I take his comment "Sounds perfect to me" to just be him being facetious, hence the :)). And just think, how well do most Christians know the Gospels beyond several snippets?

If I had more free time or could organize some people to do this: Interview people at random in public places, and ask them what they know of Jesus or any biblical stories and topics, Christian or not. (If you know a site or have seen a video where this was done, send me the link!)

So this is what Jamie basically lays out (and I think it's decently representative of what the general American public "knows"): As a caveat, I'm recounting what she said, not what the Gospels say!

Part 1) The virgin Mary gives birth to Jesus, some "star" magically appears at Bethlehem, the Magi visit with gifts like frankincense and myrrh (amazing how many know that, and not other details!). Overall, Jesus has a humble birth (she says born in hay).

Part 2) Then once Jesus is grown up he turns water into wine at a wedding sometime. Then basically he travels around with outsiders, including prostitutes as he heals people and tells parables or stories. Jamie knew something about the woman caught in adultery (we'll leave the account of Solomon and the babies out for now).

Part 3) The way Jamie put it, Jesus started a "new religion" as he gained popularity. So for whatever reason, the Romans become angry and jealous, so they crucify him. But the next day he rises from the dead and there's a dinner to celebrate.

Now, I'm not going to point by point show how nearly all of this is a caricature or distortion of the Gospel stories. I mean, how can anyone properly describe what Jesus did without using the word kingdom? Anyways, this is what I took away from seeing this video.

We as Christians need to take the Gospels seriously. We need to immerse ourselves in those narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and let the authors speak, and not already assume we know what they're going to say. Leaders in the Church have a responsibility to in some way enable their people to experience the Gospels for themselves, and not do injustice to them by giving people only a synopsis or "highlights." Perhaps certain traditions in Christianity have focused more on Paul's letters where the "meaty theology" is found, and in practice treated the Gospels as basically a collection of neat anecdotes and illustrations.

Also, this illustrates how the Gospels are NOT independent stories that don't need any historical and literary (canonical) contexts to interpret them correctly. In other words, when you remove the Israelite context (the people God formed through Abraham to restore God's fallen creation, and the promises and covenant Yahweh made through Moses and the Prophets), and when you are totally ignorant of the historical situation (1st century Palestine and the ongoing exile of the covenant people), the Gospels make little to no sense. How could they? At best you might "glean" some moral or ethical anecdotes here and there, akin to Aesop's Fables, but not much more. And, of course, Christianity is NOT a system of ethics and morality. How shallow that would be, but that's a post for another day...

Said from another angle, if you don't see Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels becoming Israel's king Messiah and embodying Yahweh through his life, death, and resurrection to fulfill Israel's redeeming and restoring purposes for God's world, then you're completely missing what the Gospel writers are saying.

So here's a question for my readers: What's desperately missing in Jamie's synopsis that you would include in telling anyone what Jesus did?

I commented on the post at Friendly Atheist a few times with a sentence and a link, but for some reason it keeps being deleted. I was looking forward to a response to comment by Jamie or Hemant, but oh well.

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