The Once and Future Jesus is a collection of nine keynote addresses from a gathering of the Jesus Seminar in 1999. These essays surprised me because with the range of theological and philosophical views expressed highlighting that the Seminar is not a unified voice.
Whilst there is not space to go over each chapter there are a few themes and issues worth highlighting.
First, for the most part the authors are writing in reaction to fundamentalist/literalist approaches to the scriptures. In his chapter Marcus Borg attributes the source of both fundamentalism and much of what drives The Seminar to modernism and its obsession with factuality. There is some irony in this.
Second, that both within the Seminar and within more conservative Christian circles the notion of speaking of the Church as if it has ever represented one view is at best naïve, at worst dishonest.
Some of the essays in my mind paint a narrow view of what is considered ‘orthodox’ Christianity and fail to recognise a diversity and depth of thought that exists, particular amongst contemporary scholars. This is especially the case with Robert Funk who dismisses critiques of the Seminar as inept in their methodology too readily, betraying an elitist arrogance.
Others openly acknowledge that there has never been a time when the whole church has given a unified witness and make helpful comments about the formation of this diverse faith community and the beliefs which surround it.
Third, is to acknowledge that the search for truth and knowledge is tempered by the reality of our human limitations. As Karen King says, “We live between the certainty of divine truth and the uncertainty of human knowledge and action, expect perhaps for the certainty of our own human imperfection and finitude.” The invitation to keep open minds is made in this context, although I would want the Seminar members to stay open to the possibility of such things as the incarnation of God in Jesus and his resurrection.
Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of biblical authority and theology the essays of this book can serve to sharpen what you think about God, Jesus and the church. This is not to say that you will agree with the authors, in fact it is more thank likely that you will find many unsettling statements within the pages. Despite this in the process of engaging you may also find that your own faith and understanding might be strengthened.
Reviewed by Rev Peter Lockhart Minister with "Clayfield and Hamilton Uniting Church congregations in Brisbane.