NEW PATHS FOR CHRISTIANS
During all the years when Reading Jubilee Debt Campaign was operating, I have had at the back of my mind a vision of Jesus – inspirational, charismatic, a leader with a clear message, central to which was a care for the poor. A message signalled by St Luke at the start of his gospel account:
He has put down the mighty from their seat and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.
I assumed that folks in our churches would be similarly inspired, But, although we have been so fortunate in the untiring commitment of a few people and a few churches, the picture that emerges ten years after we started is one of tiredness and a general lack of enthusiasm. Why should this be? It might be due to normal human frailty amongst our Christian fellows but my reading indicates something more specific.
Advances in scholarship
With advances in general scholarship method, particularly in history, bible scholars have been able in the past thirty years to build up a detailed picture of the thought world of the Palestine of the first century CE. Set against this, a picture of Jesus emerges which is very different from the other-worldly visionary depicted in traditional teaching. So far from steering clear of politics, Jesus uncompromisingly criticised the received wisdom of his day and consistently attacked the practices of the ruling elite.
This picture provides a very different role model than the one most of us were brought up on. The message used to be, ‘Jesus didn’t get involved in politics; neither should we’. Now we hear, ‘Jesus fearlessly attacked the powers that be for departing from God’s will. We should be similarly involved’. The trouble is that the message of the bible scholars, though it is thirty years old, has still not reached ‘pew level’ in mainline churches.
Developments in biblical interpretation
The bible scholars also tell a story of biblical interpretation in which, going back at least as far as the sixteenth century reformers, the narrative details of the gospel story were deemed unsatisfactory as a means of guidance on account of them being rooted in details of a long distant past which bore no relation to contemporary life. Far more satisfactory, the reformers thought, were the epistles from which clear moral guidance about conduct could be extracted. It was the epistles, not the narrative details of the gospels which provided the universal truths for which church leaders were looking.
The traditional view
The result was an ethical code – a body of do’s and don’ts – which has proved serviceable enough in terms of down to earth, practical guidance but left Christians struggling to live up to it, aided only by their own – always inadequate – will power. The fatal flaw in this traditional teaching is that it failed to recognise sufficiently that it is the vital and inspiring example of Jesus’ life and ministry, his love of his heavenly Father and his compassion towards his Father’s people which sustains the pilgrimage of individual Christians and of the church as a whole; without this, we are lost.
Teaching along these lines has prevailed right up to the present and it is my contention that it is responsible, in the main, for the disappointing responses we are experiencing in our churches towards an initiative which is Jesus-centred and should be Jesus-inspired. Instead, there is a sense that active Christians in our congregations feel over-extended, already stretched to the limit in response to the continuing call of the ethical code to ‘do more’ and to ‘try harder’, and consequently unwilling to take on yet another responsibility.
The new view
What our new dossier New Paths for Christians provides is an accessible version of the key work of two leading bible scholars, N T Wright and Marcus Borg, (three papers each), plus single papers devoted to the radical American theologian, Walter Wink and the well-known pastor and communicator, Brian McLaren. What these papers have in common is that they put the narrative events of the gospels at the centre of the scheme of things, but they do more; as we have already noted, they offer a different view of Jesus’ life and ministry than tradition gives us. The ‘new’ Jesus comprehensively challenged the received view, the cultural norms of his day.
The meaning of this for Christian communities today is clear; if the ‘new’ Jesus were to become a widely accepted and inspiring role model, Christian communities would become social activists in his name in a way which is simply not apparent today. The churches already do a magnificent job in offering help and support for the suffering victims of our global community. But in the name of the ‘new’ Jesus, they would want to go on to challenge the rule of ‘the Powers’ which is the cause of so much of that suffering. This would be ‘doing politics’ as Jesus did.
If we can achieve a readership for our papers, we would be contributing to a fundamental rethinking of the climate of opinion in our mainline churches. Such a rethink, we believe, would provide a far more positive basis for the work we do in Reading Churches Campaigning Network than we are experiencing at present.
NEW PATHS FOR CHRISTIANS
A Collection of Papers reflecting the work
of four innovative voices.
Paper 1 Then Through a Glass Darkly – Now Face to Face
The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God. N T Wright
Paper 2 The Jewish Background of Jesus’ Ministry
Based on The New Testament and the People of God (1992) N T Wright S P C K ISBN 0 281 04593 3
Paper 3 The Challenge of Jesus to the Jews
Based on Jesus and the Victory of God (1996) N T Wright S P C K ISBN 0 281 04717 0pb
Paper 4 Telling a New Story
Based on Everything Must Change (2007) Brian D McLaren Nelson ISBN 978 0 7852 8936 4pb
Paper 5 Jesus and the Spirit
Based on Jesus – A New Vision (1987 – 1st English edition 1993) Marcus Borg S P C K ISBN 0-06-060814-5
Paper 6 Jesus and His Social World
based on Jesus – A New Vision, Marcus Borg
Paper 7 Towards the Crisis and Beyond
Based on Jesus – A New Vision, Marcus Borg
Paper 8 A First Voyage Round Wink’s Trilogy, Naming the Powers (1984) ISBN 0 – 8006 – 1786 – X;
Unmasking the Powers (1986) ISBN 0- 8006 – 1902 – 1; Engaging the Powers (1992) ISBN 0 – 8006 – 2646 – X.
Walter Wink, Fortress Press, Philadelphia