I try to remind my audience that the entire quest for the historical Jesus is a massive deflection of Christian awareness from its proper focus: learning the living Jesus—the resurrected and exalted Lord present to believers through the power of the Holy Spirit—in the common life and common practices of the church. To concentrate on “the historical Jesus,” as though the ministry of Jesus as reconstructed by scholarship were of ultimate importance for the life of discipleship, is to forget the most important truth about Jesus—namely, that he lives now as Lord in the full presence and power of God and presses upon us at every moment not as a memory of the past but as a presence that defines our present. If Jesus is simply a dead man of the past, then knowing him through historical reconstruction is necessary and inevitable. But if he lives in the present as powerful and commanding Lord, then he must be learned through the obedience of faith.
Jesus is best learned not as a result of an individual’s scholarly quest that is published in a book, but as a continuing process of personal transformation within a community of disciples. Jesus is learned through the faithful reading of the Scriptures, true, but he is learned as well through the sacraments (above all the Eucharist), the lives of saints (dead and living) and the strangers with whom the exalted Lord especially associates himself. Next to such a difficult and complex form of learning Jesus as he truly is—the life-giving Spirit who enlivens above all the assembly called the body of Christ—the investigations of historians, even at their best, seem but a drab and impoverished distraction.
Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson has been on my mental to-be-read list for years now, and I still haven’t got to him. Sigh. And in case anyone is tempted to mention N.T. Wright, he’s also on there somewhere.