The last decade or so I have really enjoyed reading the works of “Jesus scholars”. They are part of a movement often described as “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The quest starts with the assumption that the Jesus pictured by the biblical writers and church tradition is quite different to the Jesus who walked the earth. So they try to peel away the layers of tradition that make up the “Jesus of faith” to reveal the “Jesus of history”.
I have found my understanding of Jesus shifting. The Jesus scholars have shown me that the image of Jesus of my childhood needs to be filled out, that he was much more than “God in a bod” who died to pay the penalty for my sin.
They have made the Gospels come alive for me by helping me appreciate Jesus in his historical setting. I have learned to see the Jesus who was a prophet of social justice; a teacher of subversive wisdom; a visionary of a new social order; a healer of broken minds, bodies , and communities; a leader of a politics of compassion over a politics of purity.
Many of the Jesus scholars lack confidence in the biblical accounts of Jesus, and so they do not refine, broaden and deepen their understanding of the “Jesus of of faith”, but abandon that Jesus. I don’t share their critique. I think the Gospels do give a reliable portrait of Jesus.
But they have helped me see so much more of Jesus, blessed me with a vision of Jesus that excites, inspires and challenges me, a Jesus I can follow.