s No matter what you believe or don’t believe, no one can deny the impact that Jesus of Nazareth and his followers have had on the world for the last two thousand years, for better or for worse. As the world shrinks and its population grows, more and more people become aware of this Jewish peasant from first-century Israel who said some pretty radical things for his time and for ours as well. Arguably, there’s never been more books written, speeches given, debates held, people helped, people killed, wars fought, and lives changed over the life and teachings of any other man or woman in existence besides Jesus.
TL;DR version: people like to talk about this guy, including me.
Without going into too much depth, Jesus is probably the single part of Christianity that kept me from throwing the whole thing away. I’ve gotten more than a few chips in my shoulder from his followers (as many have), but I could never seem to hold their transgressions against Jesus. He just didn’t look anything like them, and that was what kept me going. I’m far from the finest example of a Jesus follower, but he never seemed to care about that (and the finest Jesus follower wouldn’t claim the title anyway). It’s one of those things about the Jesus I read about in the Gospels that compels me to know more about him.
Saving Jesus is for people like me to some extent, for those who ever thought that the church looks nothing like this man that they worship and talk about so much, or that there was something special about Jesus, but couldn’t put their finger on it. More than anything, though, it’s aimed at Christians who perhaps need to know more about Jesus than they want to, and for those who have had questions about Jesus, but fear asking them in a church that might call them a heretic for doing so.
The organization that pulled this together, Living the Questions, managed to get an all-star roster of biblical and theological scholars (Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Diana Butler Bass, Amy Jill-Levine, and Walter Brueggemann, to name a few) to examine the stories about Jesus in the Bible and how we look at him in the 21st century. There are twelve sessions in all, where you’ll go from examining the Incarnation to the Resurrection in light of historical discoveries in the last 100 years, and the talks are great.
First, the good. Like I said, there’s an all-star cast of scholars talking in these sessions, and they all have something to contribute. While I felt like a couple scholars really drove the series (Borg, Crossan, and Brian McLaren, to be specific), viewers hear from many voices in the progressive theology circles, something that I think needs more exposure because it allows for a bigger tent of a Christianity in the church. The content is KILLER when these folks are on the screen, who work really hard to get at the meaning behind the stories in the Scripture without being overly condescending toward people who stick to orthodoxy (Crossan especially works well in this area when discussing the meaning of the post-Easter Jesus). All the scholars on this DVD series are working to get people to focus on following Jesus in spite of what the church has made him into, and, for the most part, that works out really well. There’s more of a focus on being like Jesus and living out his teachings than there is believing the right things about him, and we all could probably point to examples of where the church needs MUCH more of this.
I do have one major problem with this series as a whole: while LTQ’s goal is to open up the church to questions about Jesus people have been afraid to ask, be it the inconsistencies between the Gospels, or how possible it is for someone to rise from the dead, or how it’s possible to be fully God and fully man. I’m with that 100%, but I feel like the conclusions these sessions reach leave no room for anyone to remain in the camp that still professes a literal resurrection or the hypostatic union. It’s not even so much the scholars that do this, but the way the series is edited around their interviews. Throughout the sessions, you’ll see interjections from young adults who narrate little bits about Jesus based on the interviews that come across as alienating and pretty condescending (the one guy, during the Resurrection session, states the following: “the only way one can maintain an unquestioning, literal interpretation of the events surrounding that first Easter is by steadfastly avoiding reading the Bible.”) For a group that’s trying to make the table big enough for people to ask questions, that’s a pretty absolute and insulting statement. The young adults who interject these little bits have a tendency to hold that same attitude, as if they’ve been given some sort of special knowledge from these scholars that the church has withheld, and that if you still think there was a literal resurrection (or Incarnation, miracles, etc.), then you’re obviously reading your Bible wrong.
Look, for the sake of a continuing conversation, it’s cool with me if you don’t think that there was a Virgin birth, or that Jesus wasn’t fully God, or that there wasn’t a literal resurrection, but don’t insult me about it when expressing your views. That’s not the conversation I signed up for. I admit I could be very, very wrong about the things I believe, but it is still OK if I believe these things. What matters to me is the person Jesus moves you to be, and your participation in the Kingdom he preached. If Borg and Crossan can be friends with more orthodox scholars (NT Wright, for example, who should have been included in these talks), then so can you without trying to get them to throw away their beliefs. That’s the same absolutism you’re trying to combat with this series, so don’t get sucked into it trying to fight it.
Beyond that rant, it’s a pretty good series. Production could have been better (it has a very workplace training video feel), but the content really is awesome once you get past the condescension. If you feel like your small group or church is ready for this kind of talk, then I recommend this series.