The third and final section of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (ed. Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne) includes two essays of a more reflective nature.
Scot McKnight resurrects the ghost of Martin Kähler by contending that “historical Jesus proposals are of no use to the Church” (175). Because all historical work is interpretive in nature, no account of Jesus is devoid of interpretation. In this regard, McKnight is echoing many of the other essays. But where this is germane to his topic is in the fact that the Church has always accepted the interpretations of the four Evangelists as the authoritative accounts of who Jesus was and is. The canonical gospels have already done the Church’s interpretation of history, but modern historical Jesus study assumes that the Church got things wrong when it comes to Jesus’ identity. McKnight, admitting the provocative nature of his claim, states that “the act of (re)constructing the historical Jesus is … a rebellion against the church’s Jesus or at least a departure from the church’s Jesus” (179). McKnight’s three main reasons for concluding that historical Jesus work is useless for the church are:
- History is meaning-making and that meaning (related to Jesus’ identity) has been made by the gospels and creeds.
- The criteria used in historical Jesus studies have not led to anything close to a consensus, thus the enterprise is unconvincing.
- Recent memory studies make it difficult to be very confident in reconstructing a historical Jesus.
- Historical Jesus studies continue to shift over time.
McKnight’s admittedly provocative thesis goes further than it needs, in my estimation. Is it true that historical Jesus work is entirely useless for the church? I think otherwise. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that such studies are not authoritative for the church, or are of secondary importance, but to say they have “no use” goes further than I would.
Dale Allison pens the final contribution, a reflection on how his views on historical Jesus studies have evolved over his lifetime. He notes an early uneasiness with the criteria approach, but since he could come up with no better approach to the historical Jesus, he initially followed the pack of other HJ scholars. Over time, he came to find more convincing the idea of finding patterns in the Jesus tradition that would indicate Jesus’ identity. As is the case with many of Allison’s works, his frankness and sincerity come through clearly as he describes his own struggles within the scholarly guild. If only others in the field could follow his lead, we might all benefit.