Somebody should be embarrassed. I don’t know if it’s the “scholars” who are members of the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” Macmillan Publishing Co. for publishing their book, or the wire services for giving them all so much publicity recently. But somebody should be embarrassed.
The news feature noted that based on the work of a group of 77 scholars over the last few years, folks should now understand that Jesus, while He was here on earth, actually said only about 20 percent of what the Bible claims He said. The rest came from others who supposed (or wished) He would have said it if He’d had the chance.
A quick glance at the list of samples elsewhere on this page shows how loaded the project was. Very simply, the things the scholars claim Jesus actually said are sociological. The things they claim he didn’t say are theological and doctrinal.
It’s a funny thing how often that happens in this day and age. People want the benefit of your program without the costs. They want the fruit of your philosophy but they don’t want of your any philosophy of the mental but discomfort that might be associated with it.
That’s why the scholars and the publishers and the publicists should be embarrassed by all this. But, of course, they’re not; they’re so much the products of their age they never think about how naive they sound.
Sociological benefits without theological truth; it’s the great mirage of our age. It is, in some respects, the essence of secularism. It’s the promise that you can operate successfully as a human being in the here and now without serious consideration of and commitment to the supernatural and the eternal.
I call it a mirage because its appeal never lets up. Jesus’s enemies during the three-year period of His public ministry also tried hard to break down the wholeness of what He was claiming. It was precisely at such a point that He gave them a sharp reprimand. “I have shown you many miracles from the Father,” He told His accusers one day. “For which of them do you seek to stone me?” To which the leaders responded: “It’s not for the miracles we’re upset. It’s because you, a mere man, are claiming to be God.” In other words, if you could just set aside your theological fine points, we could tolerate you.
Jesus’ withering comment is instructive: “The Scripture,” He said, “cannot be broken.” Stop trying to truncate the observable things I do from the very specific things I have to say about the power behind what I do. It’s all one piece.
Our society’s social engineers would love to solve our mounting problems without having to come to terms with the person of Jesus Christ. Sociology is challenging (maybe even fun), so long as you don’t have to come to terms with theological fine points. As William Bennett pointed out in a column in The Wall Street Journal last week, “The reason for the hatred of religion is because it forces modern man to confront matters he would prefer to ignore.” But Jesus is clear. He simply doesn’t allow us to break up His pronouncements that way.
As always, all our issues are ultimately theologicaL All the problems we encounter—whether issues of crime or morality or economics or the environment or anything else you can imagine—are issues ultimately shaped by our sense of who God is and how we are supposed to live before Him.
It’s easy, after a madman shoots up a commuter train in New York, or after brutal thugs rape and murder little girls in St. Louis and California, to spill forth with whole series of suggestions about gun control and better institutions for deranged people and tougher sentencing for hardened criminals—an on and on. All of that is sociological-man-in-relationship-to-man.
What’s much harder for our society is to dig deep to discover the theological issues that affect all this-the man-in-relationship-to-God issues. Modem people resist that like little children resist medicine.
A sad measure of how deep that resistance is maybe seen when it isn’t just nuclear scientists and economists and engineers who think secularly. This time it’s a group of scholars who call themselves the “Jesus Seminar.”
Reprinted from World, Dec. 25, 1993, with permission.
WHAT SCHOLARS SAY JESUS SAID—AND DIDN’T SAY
Things “Jesus Seminar” scholars say Jesus probably never said:
– “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
– “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
– “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
– “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never by thirsty” (John 6:35).
– “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Things “Jesus Seminar” scholars say Jesus almost certainly said:
– “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
– “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
– “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).
– “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).
– “Do no worry about your life…Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin” (Luke 12:22,27).