Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Scot McKnight's April cover essay, "The Jesus We'll Never Know," and his March review of Brian McLaren's most recent book reinforce each other: Portraits of the "real" Jesus tend to be self-portraits.

The superb twin offerings brought me back to graduate studies in Toronto, where, in a seminar on Hans Küng's On Being a Christian, a professor noted that Küng was recapitulating in his own person the entire history of Protestantism, from the justification debates around the Council of Trent to religious pluralism. The same can be said of McLaren, who is recapitulating the same history as he moves out of fundamentalism to a liberal social gospel.

About On Being a Christian, late Catholic writer Ralph McInerny quipped that it portrayed Jesus as "the man who would be Küng"; McLaren's Jesus looks like "the life of Brian."

It's hard to see why McKnight depicts historical Jesus studies so negatively just when those studies are getting exciting again. Perhaps his expectations are too high; as he states near the end of the essay, "Faith cannot be completely based on what the historian can prove." The quest to base faith solely on historical research is of course doomed to fail. That might have been the aim of Rudolf Bultmann and others, but it is not that of modern Jesus scholars.

N. T. Wright, Craig Keener, and Darrell Bock are right: Jesus scholarship provides an appropriate context for faith, not a substitute for it.

McKnight rightly insists on the need for faith in approaching the "real Jesus," but reasons less surely when he suggests that historical Jesus studies are futile because scholars cannot agree. I've heard that reasoning before: "There are many truths; therefore, there can ...

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