The Jesus Seminar is an increasingly popular, but very liberal, group of scholars (such as Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus) who re-interpret the scriptures based upon liberal presuppositions. E.g., the miracles of Christ -- and the very title of "Christ" itself -- were later additions to the Christian faith and tradition, superimposed onto the "authentic" teachings of Jesus by overzealous disciples motivated to heighten the esteem of Christianity in the eyes of the Christian community and the general public. Could you comment on liberal theology and what you know of the Jesus Seminar? This might be especially helpful given the fact that so many people are reevaluating their faith and exploring the different theologies. -- Java Bradley

Liberal theology, an outgrowth of 19th century German rationalist biblical criticism, traditionally places more trust in human reason, whereas conservative theology affirms the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. While liberals might say, "The Bible contains the word of God," or "shows us the word of God," conservatives would unanimously say, "The Bible is the word of God." That is a huge difference, and leaves a huge unanswered question! For if the Bible only contains the word of God, how are we to sort out which parts are human opinion and which parts are revelation from God?

I began reading Chilton's book, but in the end put it down, not because Chilton is an uneducated man or does not have an acute mind and engaging writing style, but because, like so many other liberal works, the book offers little that is actually new or of merit. The rehash of old allegations is highly speculative--which in a way strikes me as unscholarly. And since it denies the basics of the Christian faith (the Virgin Birth, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, etc), one wonders why it needed to be written in the first place. We know that Jesus was far more than a Jewish rabbi, for he would not have been so severely rejected by the establishment if he had towed the party line.

The Jesus Seminar, of which Chilton is a member, attempts to identify the genuineness of various gospel passages, color-coding them according to their probability of being "authentic." Some passages are rejected outright; others are considered to be somewhat authentic; a few are deemed as original to Jesus. The project was doomed from the outset, in my opinion, since one if its criteria seems the exclusion of the supernatural. Its conclusions can be accepted by only a few. After all, even liberals argue with other liberals about which parts of the Bible they consider authentic or authoritative for us today. The discussion of what were the original (Aramaic) words of Jesus, and how they found their way in to the (Greek) New Testament is a fascinating one, but in my view the Jesus Seminar goes too far.

For more on the Jesus Seminar, click here. For an appropriate scriptural thought, please see 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

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