You can debate endlessly whether the language of the New Testament is meant to be understood literally or metaphorically, which some biblical scholars have been doing for hundreds of years.
But, in the end, such an argument misses the point.
"Could we ask a different question? You take (the New Testament) literally and tell me what it means. I'll take it contextually and tell you what it means to me. Is it possible that we could meet on the field of meaning?" said John Dominic Crossan, an internationally known New Testament scholar, in his keynote address of the Theologian in Residence 2004 Program Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.
About 125 people gathered in Plymouth's sanctuary to hear Crossan, professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, give a talk called "The Resurrection of Jesus and American Christianity," in which he tried to take listeners back to a pre-Enlightenment, first-century Mediterranean under the rule of the Roman Empire.
Crossan's goal in doing so was to help participants ponder the answers to two questions: What did people in the first century really mean when they used the term 'bodily resurrection'? And what is at stake when we ask this?
The answer to the second question is: Quite a lot, actually.
"What's at stake is the future of justice, the future of God's world," Crossan said. It means "that the general resurrection and God's cleanup of this world has begun, to make God's world just."
His one-hour keynote address, which was followed by about an hourlong question-and-answer session at Plymouth, was just one part of Crossan's schedule through Tuesday as the 2004 Theologian in Residence.
Crossan was visiting Lawrence on Sunday and today in order to give a number of talks and participate in small groups and seminars related to the topic "The Historical Jesus and American Christianity."
Crossan started the day with the talk "Love is Justice" at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway.
The annual Theologian in Residence Program is sponsored by a consortium of campus ministries at Kansas University, Lawrence congregations, KU's religious studies department and the philosophy departments of Baker and Washburn universities.
Crossan has written 20 books on the historical Jesus (or who Jesus really was when placed in historical context), four of which have become national religious best sellers.
Crossan, a co-founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, used dry wit, self-deprecation and Irish charm to engage participants Sunday in a discussion of how the New Testament can be teased apart to find meaning, whether it's taken literally or metaphorically.
His talk was studded with vivid comments, such as:
- "If all the Church has to say is 'Come to us, and we'll get you into heaven,' then that's transcendental snake oil. That's all it is. The church is supposed to be talking about the here and now."
- "(Pontius) Pilate executed Jesus, and he would have been impeached if he didn't. Jesus was saying that the Roman Empire was not the kingdom of God. And that's treason."
- "Paul (in the New Testament) says God's justice is a free gift to the world. It's free, like the air. All we have to do is breathe. But taking it costs."
- "If Jesus appeared in Washington saying the same thing (he said in Jerusalem), he'd be eliminated with extreme prejudice. I don't know how they'd do it, probably assassination. Maybe the Patriot Act would take care of him."
|11:30 a.m. today: Brown-bag lunch at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread. Free and open to the public.6 p.m. today: Annual banquet of the Kansas University department of religious studies in the Malott Room of the Kansas Union. Registration is required.7:30 p.m. today: "The Execution of Jesus and American Christianity" at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union.Noon Tuesday: "Conversations with John Dominic Crossan," a brown-bag lunch, will be at in the Lincoln Room of the Washburn University Memorial Union.2 p.m. Tuesday: A continuing-education seminar at at Central Congregational Church, 1248 S.W. Buchanan St. in Topeka. Registration is required.7:30 p.m. Tuesday: "The Life of Jesus and American Christianity," Thomas L. King Lecture at the Washburn Memorial Union.For more information, call the Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt., 843-3220|