Two of our modern professions have ancient roots: medicine and ministry. While we want our doctors to be up-to-date on the latest treatments, to be aware of innovations in health care, and to know the benefits, drawbacks and limitations of medications, we're not so clear about ministers. Both have made great strides since 1790, when modern biblical scholarship began. Nobody wants his or her doctor to offer the kind of treatment available then. Ministers ... not so clear.
When church members go to Jesus Seminar on the Road events, they are amazed at what they learn and wonder why the information shared is all new to them. They're even more flabbergasted to find that books, tapes, DVD's are out there to inform them. They've heard nothing at their churches. At the same time, their pastors know much about what is being shared at these gatherings and have said little about it.
Of course I'm exaggerating, but it seems the resistance to new ideas in church, especially biblical studies, is so great, that the very people who could educate congregations encounter such resistance they give up.
For a left-leaning student in love with the Bible, I'm puzzled by these things. I wonder if the conclusion is that some people are so terrified that scholarship would weaken their faith that they want to prevent anyone from hearing about it. If Bishop Spong (John Selby Spong, retired bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church is correct, it is because many people come to church, not for truth, but for security.
The result is that other people are expected to believe what makes no sense to them. They're torn. Should they take it? Are they the only one?
Thinking people do not want to go through mental contortions at a place where they would like to follow Jesus' instructions to "love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind." (Luke 10:27) It seems Jesus, or the writer of Luke, has added "mind." The point is that we are to love God with our whole selves. We cannot set aside our critical thinking ability if we want to faithfully love and serve God.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and preacher extraordinaire, looks at the situation of people whose faith in God has been wounded, and others who feel betrayed. Many are disillusioned. She writes, "disillusionment is the loss of illusion - about ourselves, about the world, about God and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth."
When we hang in there we begin to learn that God is larger than our illusions. "God is greater than my imagination, wiser than my wisdom, more dazzling than the universe, as present as the air I breathe and utterly beyond my control."
In John 8:31-32 we learn that Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The same scholars who began the modern search for the historical Jesus have translated the seven authentic letters of Paul and are now ready to begin a re-examination of the entire Bible. Thanks to them, my love for and relationship with Jesus has deepened and strengthened. I'm excited and delighted to learn they continue on.
Most of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar teach at the undergraduate level, where students come because their courses are required. To engage them is a challenge. I find that more daunting than the students that seminary professors instruct. Their students want to be in their classes. So the Fellows are used to presenting material in an engrossing way.
If you would like your religion to be as up-to-date as modern medicine, seek out places where you can study religion for the 21st century. Teachers in this endeavor are out there.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly and Congregational and Presbyterian churches in Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by e-mail at dpknudWhotmail.com.