11.16.2008

de-divinizing Jesus

A few months ago a man named Tod Lindberg wrote an interesting-looking book titled, "The Political Teachings of Jesus". Quite unexpectedly, I have found the book to have many similarities with liberation theology. It's expressed purpose is to analyze the Teaching of Jesus Christ as if he were merely a man. The book ignores any investigation into his divinity and looks to explicate the profundity of his teaching that is available supposedly without considering his divinity.

My brief review is this: to ignore the question of Jesus' divinity is to misunderstand some of his teachings. Not all, just some. The book, so far, is a reflection of this principle. Lindberg gets many things right, and at times his writing "makes you think deeply," as Michael Novak says. But at times his writing demonstrates a misunderstanding of Christian teaching and the very verses he is drawing from. Not to mention that the last thing Christianity needs is another de-supernatural-ification, or attempt to understand Jesus without reference to his claim to divinity.

Rather than substantiate this criticism with an example, I'd rather share something the book offers that was particularly interesting to me. The selection below demonstrates the strengths of Lindberg's style. He is talking about Jesus' notion of an "enemy"
What, then, does it really mean to "love your enemies," not just your neighbors? We might begin with what it means to have or be an enemy. Here, Jesus suggests that from the point of view of the old law, an enemy is someone you "hate," perhaps viscerally. We therefore have to begin with the notion of "enemy" as a relationship between two people, or two peoples, or two nations. What divides you from your enemy? And what do you have in common?

The easy answers are, respectively, "everything" and "nothing" To be in a relationship of enmity is to be in a relationship in which there are no ties of goodwill that bind you: no law, no "brotherhood," no neighborhood. There is accordingly no way you can agree on how to resolve the differences between the two of you. The only option each of you sees (assuming that both parties to the relationship of enmity are aware that they are enemies of each other) is to try to kill or force the submission of the other or to separate yourself by as much distance as possible if you fear the struggle that might ensue.

In truth, though, this is a misimpression, one that Jesus sets out to identify and correct. Note to begin with that, in most cases, enemies are aware of each other as such (and if not, one party will treat the other as something better than an enemy while the other pursues the relations between the two in accordance with the hidden or secret understanding of the other as enemy). But even a common understanding between two people that they are enemies is a common understanding between the two. They are not so radically apart as they might like to think.

Animals don't have enemies: The predator/prey relationship is different, even though we sometimes use terms like "natural enemies." To have an enemy is a matter of a person's understanding that someone is an enemy. We come back to that idea of "hate." The condition of enmity is precisely not "natural." If it were, how could we escape it? Generations of people would be doomed in perpetuity to a state of hostility.

Hobbes's "war of all against all" is one possible outcome, and it may be the initial state of relationships between people and a "state of nature" in the sense of the human condition before we encounter people who are willing and able to forge different principles according to which they will live. Nevertheless the Hobbesian struggle remains only one possible outcome. Others are possible as well.
So it's definitely an interesting read, but I think there is slight injustice done. I still think the best thing ever said about Christianity and politics can be found in Peter Kreeft's talk "Should the state take a stand on first things?". It solves just about every problem I've ever tried to deal with in an hour.

2 comments:

Phil said...

my brother and I just watched the the Kreeft lecture and loved it. thanks for posting.

Zach said...

oh good I'm glad someone else watched it!

I have never found a thinker like him