Embracing the Human Jesus

A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity

Embracing the Human Jesus is a sincere effort to think anew about Christianity and Christian practice on the foundation of a purely human Jesus. Against the inevitable criticism that such a Jesus undermines the historic faith of the church, David Galston finds a human Jesus who inspires a new era of honesty in the practice of Christianity. The book expresses the awareness held by many scholars that the historical Jesus was an end-time prophet not well suited to the contemporary world. Galston counters that, by pointing out that whether taking the apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic view, virtually all scholars see Jesus as a participant in the Jewish wisdom tradition. On this often marginalized foundation, Galston proposes that the trajectory of the ancient wisdom of Jesus can be grasped in the contemporary world and can find life in the thinking and practices of a new church. The book combines both academic theory and basic Christian experience to offer a simple model that will help communities take the historical Jesus to church.

“Smuggling Jesus into Christianity will be hard but exciting work, and David Galston is a clear and lively guide who knows just how much is at stake.” — Don Cupitt, University of Cambridge UK

“This book shows why the historical Jesus will change the church that embraces him.” — Robert J. Miller, Juniata College

“A thought-provoking study of the historical Jesus that not only demonstrates a wide acquaintance with the relevant literature but also manifests much original thought.” — Lloyd Geering, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ

“Galston takes seriously the quest for the historical Jesus and does not try to cook the evide

Polebridge Press, 272 pages. $24.

Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

3 thoughts on “Embracing the Human Jesus

  1. Review

    Book Review by Jamieson Spencer

    For progressive Christians, this brilliant book is, dare one coin the term, a true “Humanist-send.” Galston with remarkable candor proposes to guide a reformed church, what he terms “the church of the historical Jesus”, into a down-to-earth, humane, reasonable, ethical array of commitments and practices. He makes the confident proclamation even if this means demoting Jesus from a divinity to a wisdom teacher. The post-Enlightenment mind-set has displaced the sense of the universe that informed the rise of Christianity and requires that we in turn adapt our learned, inherited professions of faith to this new understanding. He wants us to “take the historical Jesus to church,” which means stripping away two millennia of inaccurate, frozen creedal formulae and seeking for what he terms the authentic “voiceprint” of the man Jesus. (A voiceprint is actual, authentic “style of speaking and thought” that marked the living and breathing man. That means rejecting the gospel versions of the Christ and looking instead at the gospel of Q. It is there that we will find, best-preserved, the wisdom teacher Jesus of Nazareth and his lasting contribution to human thought and living.

    As the Rev. Dr. Galston notes, “To be a follower of the historical Jesus does not require beliefs about him; it requires ears to hear him,” ears that allow us “to stop worrying about the world and start paying attention to one’s presence in it.” “It is possible,” he adds, “to be serious about Jesus and [his teaching] without being desperate about Jesus and demanding from him our salvation.” Galston’s chapter on how to approach, interpret and apply the array of parables that embody Jesus’ wisdom school are profoundly impressive.

    Over and beyond the calm candor with which Galston dismisses both God and the divinity of Jesus, he likewise proposes a remarkably thorough and imaginative set of liturgical practices. He suggests that these replace the worship forms many of us have grown up with and for which we retain an emotional fondness. He recommends we replace the liturgical order of “traditional Christianity”–whose successive “linguistic centers” (the assumed psychological sub-texts of the Eucharist’s four episodes) are “guilt, judgment, forgiveness, proclaiming”–with those of the new Historical Jesus Community, which will prize “common humanity, education, compassion and honesty.”

    In formulating and proposing a new service not of worship but of celebration, I hope Galston and company can preserve at least some of the vocabulary and prose rhythms that are Anglicanism’s particular and special gifts to the practice of our inherited faith. The more we (rightly) subtract and dismiss doctrine from our shared rituals of celebration, the more vital to my mind become aesthetic considerations.

    With equal frankness, the author proposes we do away with prayer and do so without regret. (He dismisses prayer as a product of an old patriarchal order of pleading with a superior; he likewise proposes we reject the apocalyptical Jesus upon which the early church came to rely, in order to establish its authority.) “To pray for someone might create a fantasy of hope, but it can never match the sincere comfort of genuine care for one another.” The words of the historical Jesus “is immanent humanism, not transcendental theism.”

    One key item in his new order of ritual is replacing the coming together in communion (for which confession and purification are prerequisites) with the reformed recognition that “the act of gathering is a Banquet. And even though the historical Jesus is the inspiration of such a community he is not the only one from whom we can learn. Open commensality demands openness of mind.” This new gathering involves a full range of nourishment, both physical and intellectual. It’s an educational celebration. (He could do worse than examining the feast realized by Shakespeare in Macbeth where the whole human and natural order unites in a common celebration of life and good deeds, the proper communal and moral life as a festive celebration.)

    There is much more in this brilliant work that deserves not only close scrutiny but a commitment to implementation. I cannot recommend it too highly.

  2. I have the privilege of attending the community led br David Galson in Hamilton Ontario. He is practising the new concepts of communion and gathering together. It is a nourishing supportive experience and community that strengthens and enables all that attend in the spiritual changes in the way we think and act out our support to the historical Jesus.

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