“The Jesus Project” and American education
December 11, 2008
There’s a new group of biblical scholars setting to determine points of consensus on the historical Jesus. They’re calling themselves, “The Jesus Project,” as the Christian Post reports. The CP quotes a former professor of mine at UNC Charlotte, James Tabor (author, The Jesus Dynasty): “the Jesus Project repudiates any theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” That certainly sounds like Professor Tabor, who taught my New Testament course wherein he assured us that Jesus was just another failed apocalyptic messiah, whose corpse rotted long ago. Among his extensive work on NT origins, Tabor has been in the process of doing a new translation of the Bible because, as he told us, the NRSV and all other translations are too Christian, i.e., tainted by “theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” I have to grant Professor Tabor one thing: he taught me that the Bible was a theological text, created by (broadly speaking) theologians. As a committed agnostic, his task is to simply recognize the theological intent as it shapes the history. Belief shapes facts; reverse this belief-shaped construction and discover the fact. Tabor, being a very smart man, is quite confident in his ability to discover the fact, with the help of his fellow scholars.
All of this leads to the interesting question of whether a secular university can have theologians on staff, which, given a broader definition, would include historians, literary critics, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, etc. who believe in a Christian interpretation of reality. Religious Studies departments in America have, with very few exceptions, rejected theology as a legitimate discipline in the public university, and, thus, they do not hire scholars engaged in constructive Christian dogmatics. Most other departments (history, philosophy, psychology, etc.) would likewise reject a candidate who explicitly claims Christian faith as integral to their hermeneutic. In order to be counted among the true scholars, you have to claim an agnostic/secular hermeneutic (i.e., a hermeneutic without God) tethered to a logical positivism of universally-accessible material. Christian scholars are caught in a predicament because they believe in a God known according to faith in a moral regeneration. As such, it is the “will” that determines truth for the Christian — at least, that is how our secular counterparts will interpret it, and they are right insofar as the will must change in order to recognize truth. But, the whole modern secular university is built upon the principle that the mind alone — reason alone — is the only legitimate faculty for claiming knowledge. Thus, only that which can be logically demonstrated is appropriate in the public university.
That is what virtually all of my professors believed, and, thus, we are in an odd predicament in America in that our tax dollars support educational institutions with a decidedly anti-Christian modus operandi. We have bought the lie that “secular objectivity” is a value-free and religiously-neutral concept. I will, as with most things, blame my parents’ generation. Thanks a lot, baby boomers! Idiots.