Introduction to the Theme Issue---Jesus and the Academy

Robert Wall and Douglas Geivett


The thematic interest of this issue of Christian Scholar's Review intends to respond to the high interest in Jesus and the Gospels within the academy. The modern quest of the historical Jesus continues to attract scholars and media, secular and religious; stories of Jesus's life narrated by both biblical and extra-biblical gospels gather readers in ever increasing numbers, with a variety of methodological interests an from diverse faith backgrounds. The result of their conversations is a more fully textured understanding of Jesus and the biblical narrative of his life and teachings.

The meet prospect of this deeper knowledge should be the formation of a more vigorous Christian faith and life. The scholarly study of Jesus in the academy, however, is faced with problems of growing proportion which could threaten this good end. First, the privatization of religious commitment in the church has made it very difficult for the spectacular gains of the academy's work on Jesus to find an hospitable home within the worshiping community: the academy and the church remain at odds in both their purpose and culture. Second, the hegemonic interest of academic religious studies to protect the scholar's autonomy from making any theological commitment forces the scholar to render Jesus in ways that fail to contribute to the spiritual formation of the academy's students or the church's parishioners. Moreover even within university departments of religious studies, one typically finds a "wall of enmity" built between biblical scholars and professional theologians which often subverts any real attempt at theological reflection on Scripture's witness to Jesus. In fact, Jesus is often recruited to lend support to the current (and typically secular) ideologies that sweep across the campus landscape as the means of granting one's own convictions a measure of respectability. Finally, when these more practical factors are married to an epistemology deeply skeptical of faith's purchase of supernatural truth or divine being as incarnate in the historical Jesus, the believer can become easily disheartened: whatever Jesus the academy discovers will actually prove counterproductive for those who seek to pattern their lives after his.

In contrast to this rather pessimistic portrait of "Jesus and the Academy," the present collection of studies intends to sound a more encouraging note. Although using very different tools from the academy's toolbox, each contributor has found ways of bringing their own academic disciplines to consider again the Jesus of Christian faith. The positive result is a keener awareness of how we might seek after understanding of the Jesus of history and Scripture, with important implications for how a community of learners might continue to appropriate his teaching and work for all of life.

In this regard, then, Dallas Willard ("Jesus the Logician") challenges the academy's reception of a popularized Jesus, whose simple approach to all of life seems unsuitable for the intellectual rigors of a college faculty. His reconsideration of the gospel narratives, which describe how Jesus processes the large ideas of his culture, help to define a variety of academic discipleship apropos to the most demanding life of the mind. Perhaps this very perception of Christian discipleship frames the subtext of the faculty forum, "Faculty, Who Do You Say That I Am?", which gathers a diverse group of faculty at Seattle Pacific University around a single gospel narrative to find there a Jesus who continues to challenge the way people of faith approach the big ideas of their various academic disciplines. One such idea in the academic study of philosophy is the nature of knowing God. Philosopher Paul K. Moser ("Jesus on Knowledge of God") considers the nature of one's relationship with God as determinative in how we come to know God. As exemplified by Jesus's filial relationship with God as Father, human "knowers" may also come to k now God as concerned and loving Father, which then requires our appropriate responses of trust and obedience to God.

Since much of the academy's current interest is posited in the Jesus of history, we have included Craig Evans' review essay of important works from various quests. Yet, Joel Green ("In Quest of the Historical: Jesus, the Gospels, and Historicisms Old and New") challenges the very idea of history presumed by these modern quests of the historical Jesus. According to Green, the gospels are set within their own histories, cultural and narrative, and are less concerned with verification if historical facts about Jesus and more with offering their readers an interpretation of precious memories of Jesus as the cipher of a universal truth about God's relations with God's people.

These same biblical narratives about Jesus themselves have a history. Time and again they are read and re-read to supply meaning and direction to the current reader's life. At these moments, the Jesus of history intersects with the history of his followers in new and sometimes surprising ways. In their study, Heidi Hornik and Mikeal Parsons (Caravaggio's London Supper at Emmaus: A Counter-Reformation Reading of Luke 24") contend that Caravaggio's rendering of Luke 24:30--31, which tells of the supper at which the disciples first recognize the risen Jesus, is infused with elements from his own historical moment (or that of his patron) to provide "visual" support for the Catholic Reformation. Our hope is that each of these essays will provide both insight and stimulation to the readers of this Review as they seek after Jesus, whether in study or in worship.


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Last Updated: July 24, 1999
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