After 25 years, Ramsey Michaels is out at Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
“Nowhere is biblical scholarship so polarized as over the question of the historical Jesus,” J. Ramsey Michaels wrote as the opening words of his book Servant and Son. Partly as a result of the polarization caused by his book, Michaels resigned his position as professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a position he had held for 25 years.
Michaels has been a brilliant but controversial professor at this suburban Boston evangelical seminary. In fact, Gordon-Conwell has had a tradition of controversial New Testament scholars. Over the past 15 years, two or more New Testament professors have resigned, at least in part because the trustees, administration, and faculty senate felt their approach to the Bible violated the seminary’s statement of faith.
That statement includes belief in the Bible as “inspired of God, hence free from error” (Article 1) and in Jesus Christ, who “lived a sinless life” and united in one person “divine and human natures” (Article 4).
It is these two articles that the board of trustees and faculty senate felt had been violated by Michaels’s most recent book.
Published in late 1981 by John Knox Press, Servant and Son is a scholarly effort to include in the “new quest for the historical Jesus” something of what Jesus tells us about himself and his beliefs. It attempts to avoid the traps into which nineteenth-century liberalism fell when it turned Jesus into either a religious fanatic (Albert Schweitzer) or someone about whom we know almost nothing (Bultmann). Michaels’s study of the Gospels produces, however, a Jesus in many ways as different from that of traditional Christianity as that of the liberalism he eschews.
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