Saturday, March 29, 2003
In a stylish suit and tie, the man standing at the front of the sanctuary bore little resemblance to the devil. No horns protruded through his mop of white hair, and no tail was visible. Critics may not accuse former monk John Dominic Crossan of being Lucifer, but they appear to believe the two are on a first-name basis.
Crossan, professor emeritus of biblical studies at DePaul University, spoke at the Faith and Reason Seminar held March 14 and 15 at St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral and sponsored by the D. L. Dykes Jr. Foundation. Faith and Reason seminars engage pastors and lay leaders in critical and often controversial discussion. Issues addressed include contemporary culture and Christianity, the relationship between theology and modern science, violence and religion, egalitarianism, and understanding scripture in a historical context.
In his book, "Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography" (Harper San Francisco, 1995, $14), Crossan writes: "I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus‚ status and not a biological statement about Mary's body." He further states that Jesus is not necessarily the firstborn of Joseph and Mary. For those who read the Bible as the literal word of God, these statements are heretical.
The arched ceiling outlined in dark wood beams, the soft lights and stained-glass windows of St. Andrew's offered an odd setting for such subjects. A screen for PowerPoint presentations was set up in the chancel behind the communion rail. It was a mixture of ancient ritual and modern technology, of sacred and secular. The symbolism did not seem to be lost on the attendees.
Crossan has attracted attention because he co-founded the Jesus Seminar—a project that attempts to reconstruct the life of Jesus from all sources, both biblical and historical. The concept, known as "historical reconstruction," posits that the four accounts of Jesus' life in the Gospels are products of their historical settings. Thus, they can only be understood within the context in which they were written—not exactly a fundamentalist view of the Bible. The philosophical basis for historical reconstruction is that the truth is the truth—no matter the source. To question the biblical interpretation of Jesus threatens many Christians who believe all truth regarding Jesus is contained in scripture.
Jesus Seminar scholars, however, see this process as a way to strengthen one's faith, and argue that historical reconstruction threatens only those who say it cannot or should not be done. In Crossan's view, we must understand Christianity as it was interpreted in the 1st century if we are to make it relevant in the 21st century.
The debate in which Crossan engages is as old as Christianity itself, but for many conservative Christians, it is not the issues Crossan raises that are the primary problem—it is the fact there is a debate at all.
Rev. Mike Ross of Trinity Presbyterian Church has scheduled a "Response to the Jesus Seminar" for March 28, 7 p.m., at Barnes and Noble bookstore on County Line Road.
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