Q & A: Parables, Atrocities, and Russian translation
Three more questions with brief replies ...
I am not quite halfway through Everything Must Change and find it for the most part so exhilarating that I have strongly recommended it to a number of local friends and Jesus Seminar colleagues as an essential document. That said, I have three reservations:
1. First a frivolous one: it struck me that Luke 4:24-27 was not so much hitting the accelerator and then the brakes as it was offering people pie and then pushing it in their faces.
2. Your comments on Luke 9:23 (p. 97) and a number of other passages seem to presuppose the historical accuracy of the texts, but the Seminar scholars see many such "Jesus speeches" along with the two songs in chapter 13 as the creations of the gospel writers. Surely the songs are such, and I am persuaded by their agruments that 9:23 was, too. I am uneasy when your expositions rely on these dubious assumptions.
3. Worst of all, I fear, is your exegesis of the parable of the Dishonest Steward (p. 97). It serves your argument, to be sure, but it flies directly in the face of the explanation offered by Bernard Brandon Scott in his seminal book Hear Then the Parable, and seems to me to represent a grave distortion of Jesus' intent. I have therefore taken the liberty of attaching a brief paper I wrote a couple of years ago on the topic.
None of these objections, sir, detracts from the essential power and fundamental genius of your book, but as one who has edited books for Scott and many other Seminar scholars, I am disturbed by such infelicities. And as a lay preacher (who will surely adapt some of your material (with proper attribution) for sermons, I cannot help but wish so important a source were a bit more solid on some of the details.
BRIAN: Thanks for your note. Of everything I've written, it's hard to think of anything as being more important than EMC. Thanks also for this feedback. On #2, although I understand the approach taken by the Jesus Seminar and appreciate the project in many ways, I continue to take the gospel texts at more or less face value, assuming that the writers/editors do shape their material, but that they do so in order to faithfully translate the meaning of Jesus to a particular audience at a particular time. So far, nothing I’ve read convinces me that any of the gospel writers (or editors/redactors) are contradicting the general image of Jesus that emerges from the texts taken together in light of their historical backdrop. (Many conventional interpretations, in my opinion, do contradict the general image of Jesus, which is why I am willing to critique conventional interpretations.) My bias is to assume that the evangelists' position, being closer in time and space and culture to the original Jesus, is an advantage that shouldn’t be quickly argued away, and their perspective, while admittedly full of its own biases and far from “objective,” doesn’t invalidate what they’re offering. On #3, it seems to me that my interpretation really does fit in with Jesus’ overall intent (as I understand it), and it avoids a number of other interpretive problems. But I may be wrong, and I’m always eager to learn, and look forward to checking into this alternative understanding. Thanks for recommending it.
I am currently working my way through the book UNCHRISTIAN. I just finished reading your piece,( on pages 172-173), called GAINING THE WORLD, LOSING THE SOUL. Most to the piece I have no problem with, but I am a in a bit of a quandary as to why in talking about the so-called Christian past you state "a past that includes Semitism,racism, chauvinism, holocaust, colonialism, apartheid, slavery, attempted genocide of native peoples, ..." My quandary is why are Christians blamed for these atrocities?
BRIAN: Well, the main reason is that anti-Semitism, racism, chauvinism, the holocaust, apartheid, slavery, and genocide have been defended by Christians on Biblical grounds, and at certain times and in certain places, as horrible as it is to admit, strong majorities of professing Christians supported each of them. Rather than say, “They were false Christians, and we are true Christians,” I think it’s better to say, “Sadly, we Christians today must own these failures in our shared history, and we need to grieve and learn from them so we and our descendents won’t repeat them.” Denying or minimizing past atrocities, it seems to me, increases the chances that they might be repeated. Facing, owning, and repenting of them does the opposite.
I would like to ask if you have some plans to come in Ukraine to speak. I am asking because I am not quite common with your schedule J I just finished read your “New Kind of Christians” and reading now two books “The story we found ourselves in” and “Everything must change”. Very good stuff sir. It is a pity that we don’t have this information for Russian readers. I would like to ask you what if I will use your idea and will write something similar, but in our Slavic context? What do you think? Thank you for your response.
BRIAN: Thanks. I’ve been to a lot of places around the world, but so far not to Russia, the Ukraine, Central Asia, China, or India. So, if a group of people in Ukraine or elsewhere invite me, I would very much like to come – not just to speak, but also to learn and make new friends. And if you suggest to a Russian publisher that they approach my publishers for translations rights, I would be thrilled to see them translated. I just received a Farsi translation of Finding Faith the other day – for readers in Iran. Thanks for your interest.