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4/06/2004

Jesus, Paul, and Peter Jennings 

I watched all but about the last fifteen minutes or so of this special last night. I went into it looking for things that I didn't like about it, to be perfectly honest. I have to admit, it was much more even-handed than I thought it would be.

One of the main things that I think they got pretty close was the misconception among the Jews of the time about what the Kingdom of God actually was. The Bible talks about even the disciples expecting political reform from Jesus -- even after the resurrection.

So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
(Act 1:6-8 ESV)


They were STILL waiting for the political reform. This was a common misconception of the day, and the program dealt with it rather well, I thought. They DID, of course, venture into the typical 'How reliable are the Gospels', 'Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?', 'When were the Gospels written?' terrain, and the answers they gave reflected the more liberal scholarship that the show still focused on -- even though there were more moderate and conservative scholars on the program this time.

I was nervous as they started talking about the Resurrection of Christ. This is the one thing that programs like this usually head straight toward the liberal end of the spectrum. John Dominic Crossan didn't let me down here, with his insistance that Christ wasn't even burried, much less raised from the dead. His opinion was in the minority, though, with most of the interviewees firmly sitting on the fence -- "something had to have happened, but I don't know what".

Something DID happen. Something that transformed eleven firghtened men, who were hiding for their lives, waiting for someone to come and haul them off the jail or worse, into an international missionary team that helped transform the world. Within 100 years of Christ's death, the news had spread throughout the known world. Within 300 years, the Empire that had tried so long to silence the Christian voices had made Christianity it's official religion. These men saw Christ, alive.

The biggest problem I had was with the whole Paul vs. the apostles debate. YES, Paul argued with Peter and James. Both men ended up taking Paul's side in the arguement, though (Acts 15). Were there occasional disagreements? Absolutely. These are human beings we are talking about. They had different ideas about what direction the church should go in. And THEY couldn't just sit down with a Bible and look up verses -- they were WRITING the Bible. Ultimately, both sides agreed, though -- we have a common tradition of orthodoxy back very early in church history.

And of course, the old 'Gnostic Gospels' arguement was trotted out again. WHEN are people going to realize that we are rehashing debates that took place almost 100 years ago? The fad died out in about 1910 or so, and it will again, when people realize the poor historiography that is involved. Late date anything that you don't like, early date whatever you do, hope nobody notices. The Gospel of Thomas is authoritative, even though nobody ever mentions its use, but the four canonical Gospels are suspect, even though we have evidence of their use as Scripture from before 170AD. The Gnostic writings represent 'true Christianity', because that is what WE want Christianity to be.

I think this is the biggest problem I have with the 'historical Jesus' searches. Everyone ends up finding, to quote the old song, "their own, personal, Jesus". We have a little box, and that is what our idea of Jesus fits into -- no matter what other 'facts' we find. We can, as the Jesus Seminar does and Thomas Jefferson did, pick and choose what statements we want to believe Jesus made -- let's get rid of everything except the social activism stuff, especially anything that says Jesus about being the son of God. When we start on that road, it's very easy to make Christianity to be anything we want it to be.

I think Paul's teaching about women was a little misrepresented. As usual, they focused on what Paul wouldn't let women do, and not on the specific things women were supposed to do. We tend to do this a lot, even with our gifts and skills. Someone who can sing beautifully will sit and wish they could teach. Teachers want to be able to play instruments. Instrumentalists want to be able to preach. And on and on. We're never satisfied with what God has given us to do -- we always want the other guy's ministry. Paul NEVER said, as was stated in the program, that women were supposed to sit down and shut up. They were given specific roles in the church -- roles that men couldn't do. Lydia and Priscilla are two perfect examples of women who were instrumental in founding the church, who Paul relied on to a great degree. They NEVER are mentioned in discussions about Paul's supposed chauvanism.

They ignored Paul's theology because they don't think the Bible has any relevance to today's world, or even much beyond his own time. They water down his message and Christ's teachings so there is no call for repentance and no fear of judgement. Simply love everyone -- that's what Jesus said. They forget that Jesus was quick to let people know what they were doing wrong. Even the adulterous woman was commanded "Go, and sin no more". Jesus called her a sinner!

All in all, though, it was an interesting program. I learned a bit, and got angry a bit -- but not as much as I thought I would.

Just a few observations:
I was mysitifed about the people they talked to in the Vatican. "What do you know about St. Paul?" I was waiting for someone to say "Well, it's a nice city, but I like Minneapolis better". Where did they GET these people???

I'd heard the soundtrack was upsetting people, but I kinda liked it. Hey, they played dcTalk!

Is it just me, or does John Shelby Spong look a LOT like the Emperor in the Star Wars movies. I think I'd be concerned if my spiritual advisor looked like a Dark Lord of the Sith, but that's just me.

Wow. That was a lot of writing. If you're still reading this, thank you for sticking with me.


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