Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus

  1. Review

    Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is convinced that Jesus is missing from Christianity. So the stated purpose of his book is to explore " the mystery of how and why Jesus disappeared from Christianity, the troubling religious and historical consequences traceable to his disappearance, and alternatives that place Jesus of Nazareth and our own religious experience at the center of Christian faith." He also contends that if Jesus can be found and reclaimed, he will be against Christianity, which "both in content ad actual practice, is radically disconnected from the Jesus of history." The author is Assistant Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    He uses the metaphor of the missing Jesus to point to the separation of the Christ of faith from the historical Jesus, evidenced in the New Testament, theology, creeds, liturgy and actions of the Church. The Christ of faith, he writes, "is often at odds with the historical Jesus and the God revealed through his life." He sets himself the task, using the resources of contemporary Jesus scholarship, of finding the historical Jesus so that his life and death can be affirmed as the Christ of faith. He writes, "I have written this book because the historical Jesus revitalizes my own faith and because I have met many people over the past several years who have expressed a deep hunger for a Jesus-centered faith and spirituality."

    The author devotes a number of chapters to exploring the "diverse and contradictory" images of God in the Bible. He concludes that the "overwhelming image of God in the Bible is that of a brutal, violent, and vengeful judge." In the Old Testament this image is the result of a "messy monotheism" which reflects "different writers and different gods."

    In the New Testament a dominant image of God as violent is the result of placing Jesus in the tradition of apocalyptic expectation. These diverse and contradictory images raise the issue of biblical authority, which must be confronted if we are to make sense of Jesus as the revelation of God.

    It is Nelson-Pallmeyer’s position that for Christians, the life and death of Jesus must be the criteria by which we "discern between revelation and distortion" in the Bible. He writes, "The historical Jesus can help us make sense out of the Bible, God, scriptural interpretations of Jesus and the Christ, our own religious experience, and faithful discipleship." The sources of the life of Jesus are the four Gospels, which offer different and often conflicting portraits. So once again we have "no good choice but to choose between them" and do the best we can to sketch a portrait of the historical Jesus in the context of the world in which he lived.

    The author insists that any credible portrait of the historical Jesus, derived from the Gospels, must be seen in the context of first century Palestine and the "institutions, groups and ideas that powerfully shaped and distorted religious, economic, and political life." The message and program of Jesus, a "domination-free, compassion-filled order," which he called the Kingdom of God, was directed against the domination system of Rome and its royal and priestly clients centered in Jerusalem and the Temple, maintained by violence. As a consequence of his life given to the teaching and living of his vision, reflecting the will of a non-violent God, Jesus was crucified. The author writes "We see in and through Jesus glimpses of a God who is incapable of imposing justice, whose power is invitational rather than coercive, non-violent rather than violent, a God whose very essence and character is compassion."

    The concluding chapter of the book is entitled, ‘Taking Jesus Seriously." He poses the question. "If we take the life and faith of Jesus seriously and see Jesus as the revelation of God, then what does this mean for our lives, our priorities, our ways of being the church, our rituals and our actions in the world?" First, we must "unmask" the domination systems of our day that create inequality, injustice, and oppression and embody alternatives to them. Second, we must read Scripture critically in order to challenge distorted images of God, which deny the revelation of God in Jesus. Third, we must challenge the atonement explanations of the death of Jesus, which disconnect his life from his death by crucifixion, which was the consequence of his mission and ministry. Fourth, we must abandon traditional images of God’s power and replace it with the image Jesus had of a non-violent God "whose power is invitational rather than coercive." Fifth, we must embrace the non-violence of Jesus and "demonstrate to others that nonviolence is God’s transforming power in the world." And, sixth, we must embrace abundant life "in the context of alternative communities rooted in the generosity, compassion, justice, and non-violence of God."

    This book is a passionate and convincing contribution to the re-visioning of Christianity for the general reader.

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