- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark (June 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1563383624
- ISBN-13: 978-1563383625
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 228.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus Paperback – June 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
"Jesus is missing," says Nelson-Pallmeyer, assistant professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas. The historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth has mostly disappeared from the church and from the lives of most Christians. In his place are a pathologically violent God, muddled thinking and unjust living. The real Jesus is missing or has been banished and Nelson-Pallmeyer, a scholar, activist, author and regular contributor to Sojourners magazine, wants to find him again. In this book, Nelson-Pallmeyer draws heavily on clues left by other Jesus scholars (Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, etc.) to find what was central to the life and thought of Jesus. He methodically argues that the Bible is full of contradictory and distorted images of God, and rife with stories attributing to God violence, abuse and murder. These images and tales must be jettisoned, for they conflict with the nonviolent God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who preached and worked against the domination culture of his era. No accommodationist, Nelson-Pallmeyer cannot find any place for violence, even when exercised against evil. He is by turns prophetic and passionate, redundant and reckless. In a telling passage, Nelson-Pallmeyer jokes about reading his Bible and "crossing out the parts I don't like." Cast as a mystery in which Nelson-Pallmeyer discovers why and how the real Jesus disappeared, this volume is interesting, but overly defensive.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* In a polemical book, Nelson-Pallmeyer articulates arguments likely to interest general readers. Against Luke Timothy Johnson and others who dismiss the search for the historical Jesus as misguided, he argues that it is an important corrective to historical distortions of Christianity and to the "pathological violence" of the God(s) depicted by the Bible's "messy monotheism." Nelson-Pallmeyer's biblical criticism is consistent with a Lutheran tradition interpreting all Scripture through the lens of one part, most often the Gospel, and routinely creating a canon within a canon. Nelson-Pallmeyer's Gospel canon is nonviolent, and he applies it rigorously. His "messy monotheism" is rooted in Luther's definition of God as that in which we place our trust. Without clearly responding to the argument that no access to a Jesus of history unshaped by Christian faith exists, he rejects distinctions between a Jesus of history and a Christ of faith. More surprising than his response to Johnson is his running dispute with a mentor of his, Dan Berrigan, against whom he argues that Jesus rejected apocalypticism and that nonviolence cannot consistently be rooted in God's history-ending violence. In another running argument, Nelson-Pallmeyer criticizes the readings of the Jesus Seminar and John Dominic Crossan as insufficiently political. Anything but passive, Nelson-Pallmeyer's radical pacifism sends sparks flying in all directions. Steven Schroeder
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Because of the comprehensive amount of "pathological", violent passages found within the Bible, one cannot easily duck the implications that they raise. Nelson-Pallmeyer quotes Raymund Schwager: "There are "600 hundred passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Bible, 1,000 verses where God's own violent actions of punishment are described. 100 passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (e.g. Ex 4.24-26)." And that's just the Hebrew Bible!
Part of N-P's thesis is "either God is a pathological killer because the Bible says so, or the Bible is sometimes wrong about God". N-P believes Jesus is the one who authoritatively corrects the Bible's faulty images of God by showing his Abba Father as a God of love and redemption not of retribution and violence. Jesus taught a non-violent ethic ("love your enemies") that was very much at odds with the retributional passages throughout the Bible and congruent with a God of absolute love.
N-P relies very much on a Jesus Seminar-esque portrait of the historical Jesus. The Gospels actually contain a fair amount of the troublesome passages N-P wants to free Jesus from. After all, Jesus talked a good deal about judgment and hell. More liberal scholarship has seen these as the early churches' interpolations in addressing their own contemporary situations, not the verbatim words of Jesus. Thus, Jesus is exonerated and freed from any implication which supports N-P's attempt to rescue faith in Jesus' teaching alone. I am of the persuasion that is a very thin line to dangle on but am appreciative that N-P does his best to come up with his best solution. After all, in light of the issues raised, what would anyone sympathetically suggest?
Overall, I agree with N-P's assessment that "the Bible is sometimes wrong about God." The Bible was written within a specific cultural context that very much colored the perceptions of the biblical writers. They weren't simply God's dictational secretaries. That does not rule out that they were truly God inspired, but that like us, they were also fallibly human. Obviously, most Christians would prefer to believe in an infallible/inerrant Bible and thus gain absolute certitude. But under more open-minded scrutiny, that just doesn't seem to hold water in light of NP's discussion (and many, many other's). I am not as skeptical as N-P, that the other portions of the Bible, besides the Gospels, can't be mined more for the profound revelational insight they do contain. But can we continue under the illusion that the biblical writers always got it exactly right? Vibrant Christian faith doesn't necessarily fall under such conclusions.
This is a challenging call to the church and believers to seriously wrestle with this perplexing issue. I don't think it helps much to side-step the implications of this problem and simply chalk it up as a mystery of God's inscrutable nature or the thinking of an avowed troublesome liberal. God's alleged promotion of the genocide of whole groups of peoples: men, women and children (Joshua 8:24, 10:26-43 etc. etc.) simply won't allow that to wash. (And if one has no problem with these type of passages, then how can one say religiously driven terrorists are automatically evil? If God's goodness is incomprehensible to human sensibilities, then maybe we have no entry point to understand what is or isn't God's justice.)
As "people of the Book" we need to have the courage to be forthright about our own pathologies that come from that Book. The current global terrorism, often in the name of religion, calls all faiths to purge away their destructive elements. (And some Christians have no difficulty that it's all the others who have the problems -- strange!) Perhaps God's revelation is ongoing in the light of the supreme revelation in Christ?
In conclusion, I would like to compliment N-P for raising the issues that many of us would not have the audaciousness to raise. Many conservatives, no doubt, will have little patience for N-P's questioning because he undermines their core belief in an inerrant Bible. But can we just listen to his legitimate line of questioning above the din of our demands for orthodoxy? Perhaps for most, the answer is no but if some can entertain the question seriously, perhaps it will enable the way forward.
The author, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, claims to be a Lutheran Christian. He is definitely in a minority in his faith community- of course, being in the majority or the minority has no bearing on the truth of his views. But as a Christian he should be considered as an insider to the Christian faith. This reviewer, a Roman Catholic Christian, thinks that most people who seriously challenge long established Christian teachings do not know Biblical history nor the official teachings of Christianity. But this author does know both very well. His views deserve serious attention.
He starts with an assumption about Reality (God) and then proceeds carefully to deduce the implications of that assumption. Assumptions are necessary for all human beings to think, reason, argue, and prove. Without assumptions we would not be human. But assumptions cannot be 'proven' to others who do not share those assumptions. Very rarely does someone change his/her basic assumptions about Reality- this is classically named a 'conversion'.
The author's basic assumption is that Reality (God) is nonviolent-totally and permanently. He claims that Jesus somehow detected this during his lifetime and glimpses of this insight are found within the New Testament- if it is properly interpreted. Armed with this assumption, the author then states that the Christian creeds and even the Bible (both OT and NT) have seriously mistinterpreted what is the truth on the issue of violence. He points out, in some detail, the huge differences within the Bible on the issue of God's violence, and His authorization of violence to His followers. He then cites many of the atrocities that God's permission of violence has produced in history. He then says that a real follower of Jesus must choose between these competing views of violence. Nelson-Pallmeyer is honest enough to say that his view of violence cannot be 'proven', but neither can the opposing view be 'proven'. He claims the support of some very notable liberal theologians.
If he is right, then far reaching conclusions emerge for today's Christians. He names the spirit of the world (past and present) and most monotheists as constituting the `domination system'. This label indicates the idea of various kinds of physical violence used to dominate other human beings, contrary to what Jesus wished. This system corrupts both its direct perpetrators and most religious people who are indirectly supporting it. God's compassion is overwhelmed by the alleged God's (violent) justice. What Jesus wanted was for all humans to detect and live the `abundant life' that God makes available to us in the present. By so doing, we can possibly slowly remake the world to be the nonviolent environment that mirrors God Himself.
However, this reviewer disagrees with the author's basic assumption. If you assume that monotheism is correct, then consider the following: if God created the universe that we experience, then how did He do it? By some smooth gentle process? No! If modern science is substantially correct, then He did by a process of unimaginable violence (big bang), and this evolving universe is constantly being changed by violent processes. Even on earth, elements violently collide with each other, nature is structured as predator and prey (nature `red in tooth and claw'), all that we humans eat to sustain our lives are the bodies of living animals (meat) that we kill or living plants that we kill. History is full of examples of people being violent to one another. Why would a completely nonviolent God create such a violent environment for us? To say that God is totally and permanently nonviolent is an assumption without much historical and empirical evidence.
To say that violent images can be distorted is another matter. Most Christian scholars in history have noted the different images of God regarding violence in the Bible. But their response was to try to harmonize the differences rather than to eliminate the differences. For Christians, heresies were usually the result of some process of reductionism- eliminating troubling ideas from scripture, instead of integrating things into a higher unity. This author is continuing a long tradition, usually credited to a scholar named David Strauss, of trying to separate the `Jesus of History' from the `Christ of Faith'. Those who disbelieved in supernatural events would simply eliminate them from scripture- thus eliminating whatever they disagreed with. When applied to the foundations of Christianity (Bible and Creeds), all such attempts are reductionisms. The issue of God's violence is so central to the faith that just wars and apocalyptic thinking and actions hang in the balance- the author is correct about the importance of this issue. Can God's compassion and justice be balanced, and His abundant life be realized, without some kind of violence? Classic (theistic) Buddhists and the author's Jesus think so. Although this reviewer thinks not, Nelson-Pallmeyer's kind of faith, if it becomes widespread, would be a welcome improvement on the typical uncritical behavior of many Christians. Orthopraxy trumps Orthodoxy--- if you can't have both.
The author looks at who Jesus was and how he related to God and then sets that as his standard for evaluating whether an image of God resonates with the God Jesus knew and experienced. He helps the reader understand the apocalyptic views of some of the Biblical authors and his evidence on why he thinks Jesus broke with that view that was shared by one of his mentors, John the Baptist. Jesus embraces a God who is non-violent and one who suffers along with us rather than the omnipotent, all-knowing deity people believed in until our world was confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rwanda, and other tragedies.
The message of this book is crucial in a world obsessed with violence and environmental devastation. If our image of God is distorted, so will our values. This book will disturb you, challenge you, and hopefully give you substance to live a life of grace and mercy in the midst of one's commitment to justice. If we really want to change our image of who God is, we will have to do a lot more work not only in changing the language of worship to be more inclusive, but we must re-visit (and reject)the blood sacrifice/atonement theology found in much of the contemporary church scene.