Jesus Seminar’s John Dominic Crossan Hosted by Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston for Clergy Dialogue
Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy had the joy of spending some time last weekend with Episcopalians who had gathered at the Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring to hear from a well-known apostle of orthodox Christianity. He fills us in at Juicy Ecumenism:
Just in time for Easter, Virginia Episcopalians hosted a Jesus Seminar radical who denies that Jesus was uniquely divine or physically rose from the dead.
Instead, the historic person of Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary who was distinct only for the time and place in which he lived, according to an author and former Roman Catholic priest who recently lectured, preached, and led a dialog with clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia hosted by Bishop Shannon Johnston.
That would be the same Shannon Johnston about whom an FAQ regarding the settlement between Truro Anglican Church (whose pastor, Rev. Tory Baucom, has recently been in conversations with +Johnston about joint missional endeavors, among other things) said this:
Q. Why does Tory refer to Bp Shannon Johnston in the joint press release as a brother in Christ if he engages in false teaching?
A. Bp Johnston confesses faith in the risen Christ, as outlined in the Nicene Creed:
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;...
This is orthodox Christian teaching on Jesus. This is a reliable criterion concerning whether or not someone is a Christian (Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9).
This does not mean that his life or teaching is always consistent with the professed faith. At times, this can be said of all of us. But inconsistent belief is better than consistent unbelief. Of course, consistent belief is what we should all aspire and strive for.
The term “brother in Christ” normally describes persons who look to Christ alone for salvation.
I don’t know whether +Johnston is a Christian or not, but I find it difficult to believe that someone who could recite the Nicene Creed without his fingers crossed behind his back would be inviting an apostate like John Dominic Crossan to a “dialogue” with his clergy (especially when many of his clergy, including apparently the pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross, are so taken by his teaching that they want to expose their congregations to it). Oh, and it was promoted on the diocese web site, too.
Crossan’s unorthodox views on the Resurrection are already well-established in his writings and the Jesus Seminar, a once prominent body of liberal scholars who used to gain headlines by disputing the Gospels’ historicity. But the hosting, promotion and what amounted to an effective endorsement of his teachings – with a glowing introduction by Holy Cross Rector Wes Smedley – reveal an Episcopal diocese that drifting ever further from orthodoxy. Crossan’s appearance was promoted by the Episcopal Diocese and other Episcopal congregations in Northern Virginia, including the “renewing” congregations of The Falls Church (Episcopal) and Epiphany Episcopal Church.
“The most important thing for me is to ask the right questions,” Crossan shared in a sanctuary filled at near-capacity. Centering his Sunday evening talk on differences in iconography between Eastern and Western portrayals of the Resurrection, Crossan displayed Western church images of an individually Resurrected of Christ alongside an entire crowd being liberated from Hades in the East.
When a theologian has to resort to comparative iconography to make his points, you know he’s got nothing. Icons are not Scripture, and offer a fairly wide scope for differing perspectives on a given biblical theme or event.
The differences, Crossan asserted, raised “huge” doctrinal problems about baptism and “the East, I think, has a better sense that doctrine doesn’t capture God – the best we can do is get glimpses, and sometimes wrong glimpses.”
Huh? That’s the kind of leap that someone with an axe to grind can make. Maybe you had to be there.
Arguing that the first century idea of Resurrection was significantly different than now, Crossan charged that scripture up to the book of Daniel took for granted that there was no afterlife.
Let’s grant that the Old Testament doesn’t mention the afterlife in any way, shape or form (I think that’s ridiculous, but let’s give it to him). The fact that it wasn’t mentioned does not mean that the One who is the Source of Scripture “took it for granted that there” is no afterlife. He just didn’t see fit to reveal that in the OT. That, among other things, is what the resurrection of Christ was for.
Crossan stated that he would not attempt to dissuade a person from belief in the afterlife. But “if you’ve spent your whole life with Christ, why should it [afterlife] matter?” The retired professor from Chicago’s DePaul University recounted a conversation in which Sojourners President Jim Wallis defended the physical resurrection of Christ by explaining “no one dies for a metaphor,” and Crossan retorted “that’s the only thing they die for.”
For once I find myself agreeing with Jim Wallis. Those who give their lives do so for 1) people they love; 2) a country that they love; 3) a God they love. I’m sure there are those who will die for the sake of an abstraction, or even for a literary device, but most of us are far more willing to make sacrifices for something or someone concrete. Of course, if you think that God is just a metaphor, then I suppose that’s all you’ve got. I can also understand why you’d be uninterested in life after death–who wants to spend eternity adoring a metaphor?
The past Jesus Seminar president also repudiated the Kingdom of God as an eternal rule at a moment of time, instead proposing that it was a “process” and dismissing writings credited to the Apostle Paul about the idea of Christ coming soon, appraising that the writer “isn’t Paul.”
“Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was already here, insofar as you enter into it,” Crossan said. “Jesus probably didn’t self-proclaim that he was the messiah.”
No, I’m sure He didn’t. After all, brilliant scholars such as Crossan have determined, 2000 years after the events, what really happened. What do we need with accounts from people who lived in the same country at the same time?
Asked what difference there was between Jesus and Ghandi, Crossan was succinct.
“The difference is two things: time and place,” Crossan answered. “There are windows of opportunity within which certain things can happen. Jesus could have done everything that happened to Jesus – including resurrection taken as literally as you want – and this could have all died out in the villages of Galilee in the 66-74 war.”
Adding that “Rose Parks didn’t do anything other civil rights figures couldn’t have done,” the DePaul University Religious Studies professor recalled Jesus similarly, as part of a river pushing against a logjam, with it breaking through due to several variables at the time of Jesus’ ministry.
“But the river didn’t arrive at that moment,” Crossan asserted. “What happened was a breakthrough, and the breakthrough has a lot to do with time and place. Jesus is not really dropped down from heaven and happens to land in Galilee when he could have landed in Galway [Ireland] and been much different.”
Crossan announced that Jesus’ ministry 30 years prior would have lasted “10 minutes” under Herod the Great, and “five minutes” at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
“Don’t think that just because it happened that it had to happen,” Crossan advised.
Translation: what Jesus did was historically contingent. God essentially had nothing to do with it–it certainly wasn’t according to any plan that He might have devised from all eternity, regardless of what the “unknown” and thus dismissible clown who wrote Ephesians 1 thought. Anyone could have done what Jesus did given the right circumstances, but even Jesus couldn’t have done what He did if he’d been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, let’s sum up, shall we? We have a “biblical scholar” who claims to be a Christian, and who at the same time dismisses every significant teaching of Scripture and every significant belief of historic Christianity. He represents a strain of religion that is best embodied in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where skepticism of any form of Christian faith or belief is the norm, and even speaking of “God” (except as metaphor, of course) is discouraged. This is the “biblical scholar” whose anti-Christian blather was presented to Virginia Episcopalians as a viable approach to the Faith, and whose “dialogue” with the clergy of the diocese was hosted by the allegedly “orthodox” Bishop of Virginia.
The only word that comes readily to mind is “shameful.” Feel free to supply your own in the comments.
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