He tabernacled among us too



Would the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
Part One

I have just started reading ‘Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics’ by Richard A Burridge. Its published by Eerdmans which surprised me. Now, I confess to not having read any of Rev Burridge’s other books. As an Inclusive Evangelical I was drawn to the title, and I am excited to read what he has to say.

Of course, as Christians, Jesus is the centre; the start and finish of our faith. He is the God-Man Who revealed God to us in a way never before seen – either in Creation or in the Scriptures (OT) – indeed He is Himself the Word of God. It is a great thing to see an Ethics book look at Jesus as the start and finish of the exercise, as of course, as Christ’s disciples he is our guide, example and we are to be imitators of Christ in all aspects of our lives.

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God. The historic Reformed Confessions used the phrase “contained in”. This has been interpreted by many in modern times to say that while the Word of God is “contained in” the Scriptures of the OT and NT, not all of the Scriptures are in and of themselves the Word of God. Perhaps this view has been aided by Neo-Orthodoxy in attempting to understand how we discover where the Word of God lies in Scripture. I disagree with both Neo-Orthodoxy and the “contained in” argument. I think it is clear that “All Scripture is God breathed…” and we do damage to the Word of God to try and disect what is and isn’t God breathed. I do however believe that such a view has a lot to teach the Reformed school about the role of the Spirit in interpreting Scripture, and also the role of Jesus as the Word of God.

The danger is that some try to argue there is a difference between the Jesus of history, the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of the rest of the NT writings (and perhaps also the Jesus of the OT). A lot of heat has been made by trying to distinguish between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul, as if these two are fundamentally at odds. I believe firmly, that we get a true and real picture of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ in all of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments – all authors and all genres. I do not think we discover the historic Jesus (the real Jesus) by picking apart the accounts and setting them against each other – the so called “demythologising”.

The unveiling of the Lordship of Christ is not something imposed by later NT writers on Jesus. The revelation of the person and work of Christ was a particular unveiling until the Scriptures were finished. Of course on the Person and Work of Christ – as in all areas of theology – the Spirit continues to give us greater understanding today. As Calvin said (paraphrasing) “Even the midget may gain greater understanding than we today, as we undersand greater than those who came before us. That is how Standing on the shoulders of giants gives us greater views”.

Part Two

Coming from a Reformed perspective, the Liberal understanding of Scripture as the Word of God since the advent of Higher Criticism has always troubled me. The theories of Wellhausen and Co. have adapted and evolved over the intervening 130 years or so. The principle of Redaction (and the role of the Redactor) in both New Testament and Old Testament books has been a strength to understanding the human composition of Scripture and even the process of Inspiration itself.

However, one of the greatest weaknesses in the Higher Critical movement is an Imperialistic, patronising disregard for the intelligence and ability of primitive societies. The overwhelming presupposition was a humanistic rational one, whereby – somewhat ironically – they imagined that primitive tribes would not be advanced enough to address their Deity with different titles/names and have diverse vocabulary used infrequently. This can be seen not only in the Old Testament but even more surprisingly – and to a lesser extent – in the Pauline Epistles.

Therefore, the doctrine states that the Pentateuch is not written by Moses – contrary to the prevailing position until the late 19th Century – nor one single author or source, but divided into several traditions that were compiled at some stage late in the history of Israel, likely to be during or post- the Babylonian exile.

Now, since Burridge is dealing with the NT it is not clear what his position is re. Old Testament interpretation and redaction. However, he subscribes to the prevailing mood within Critical theology that reduces the number of Pauline Epistles to 7. Clearly, he is also of the position that if the other Epistles ascribed to Paul in Scripture are very much in the Pauline School and hold the position generally that the Apostle would have taken, had he written the Epistle.

Little discussion is entered into on the question of the Inspiration of the Scriptures by God – which is not the purpose of the book so therefore that is not surprising on one level. However Burridge treats the New Testament text as any normal historical document rather than recognising that the Church Universal quickly recognised the Inspiration of God on the NT texts in the same way as the OT.

One of the great strengths of the book, for me, is the primacy of Jesus and the Christology of the authors. This is nigh on unique in the field of NT ethics. Secondly, Burridge skilfully handles the question of the role of Jesus and Paul. Higher Criticism and the ensuing ‘liberal mainstream’ has been to see Paul and Jesus as conflicting characters even to the extent that Paul is the founder of Christianity, not Jesus, and that Paul ignores the teachings and standing of how Jesus understood himself. Jesus concentrates his teaching about the coming (and arrival) of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Much has been made against Paul of his nigh lack of mention of this fundamental motif. Burridge states that it is not unusual that the message of the Kingdom would become the message of the King/Lord once Jesus had Ascended, and therefore the teaching of Paul on the Lordship of Christ is the consistent continuation of Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom. Burridge successfully – in my opinion, though it was my position prior to reading this anyway – shows that Jesus and Paul are not at loggerheads and are consistent in their outworking of ethics and therefore there is such a thing as a New Testament ethics – rather than an ethics of Jesus and Pauline ethic.


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