March 12, 2013

Virginia Episcopalians Spotlight Jesus Seminar’s Dominic Crossan

Resurrection "can't just be about Jesus," and has to do with dying to Roman culture, according to former Jesus Seminar President Dominic Crossan at a recent lecture held at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in suburban Washington, D.C. (photo: Jeff Walton / IRD)

Resurrection “can’t just be about Jesus,” and has to do with dying to Roman culture, according to former Jesus Seminar President Dominic Crossan at a recent lecture held at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in suburban Washington, D.C. (photo: Jeff Walton / IRD)

By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)

Just in time for Easter, Virginia Episcopalians hosted a Jesus Seminar radical who denies that Jesus was uniquely divine or physically rose from the dead.

Instead, the historic person of Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary who was distinct only for the time and place in which he lived, according to an author and former Roman Catholic priest who recently lectured, preached, and led a dialog with clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia hosted by Bishop Shannon Johnston.

In appearances timed for Lent at Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring, Virginia March 10-11, former Jesus Seminar president John Dominic Crossan spoke on “The Last Week of Jesus” in which he argued against orthodox teachings about the Resurrection, the afterlife, and the nature of the Kingdom of God.

Crossan’s unorthodox views on the Resurrection are already well-established in his writings and the Jesus Seminar, a once prominent body of liberal scholars who used to gain headlines by disputing the Gospels’ historicity.  But the hosting, promotion and what amounted to an effective endorsement of his teachings – with a glowing introduction by Holy Cross Rector Wes Smedley – reveal an Episcopal diocese that is drifting ever further from orthodoxy. Crossan’s appearance was promoted by the Episcopal Diocese and other Episcopal congregations in Northern Virginia, including the “renewing” congregations of The Falls Church (Episcopal) and Epiphany Episcopal Church.

“The most important thing for me is to ask the right questions,” Crossan shared in a sanctuary filled at near-capacity. Centering his Sunday evening talk on differences in iconography between Eastern and Western portrayals of the Resurrection, Crossan displayed Western church images of an individually Resurrected of Christ alongside an entire crowd being liberated from Hades in the East.

The differences, Crossan asserted, raised “huge” doctrinal problems about baptism and “the East, I think, has a better sense that doctrine doesn’t capture God – the best we can do is get glimpses, and sometimes wrong glimpses.”

Arguing that the first century idea of Resurrection was significantly different than now, Crossan charged that scripture up to the book of Daniel took for granted that there was no afterlife. Claiming that afterlife was dismissed as a “typical pagan impertinence” by Jews familiar with the concept from surrounding cultures, the idea of an afterlife, Crossan asserted, was folded into Jewish belief during religious persecutions perpetrated by Syrians.

“Where is the justice of God when looking at the bodies of martyrs?” Crossan asked. The answer of some Jews was that there must be a great public vindication of the martyrs when God “cleans up the mess of the world.” Crossan jokingly referred to this eschatology as “Extreme Makeover: Cosmic Edition.”

Crossan stated that he would not attempt to dissuade a person from belief in the afterlife. But “if you’ve spent your whole life with Christ, why should it [afterlife] matter?” The retired professor from Chicago’s DePaul University recounted a conversation in which Sojourners President Jim Wallis defended the physical resurrection of Christ by explaining “no one dies for a metaphor,” and Crossan retorted “that’s the only thing they die for.”

The past Jesus Seminar president also repudiated the Kingdom of God as an eternal rule at a moment of time, instead proposing that it was a “process” and dismissing writings credited to the Apostle Paul about the idea of Christ coming soon, appraising that the writer “isn’t Paul.”

“Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was already here, insofar as you enter into it,” Crossan said. “Jesus probably didn’t self-proclaim that he was the messiah.”

Asked what difference there was between Jesus and Ghandi, Crossan was succinct.

“The difference is two things: time and place,” Crossan answered. “There are windows of opportunity within which certain things can happen. Jesus could have done everything that happened to Jesus – including resurrection taken as literally as you want – and this could have all died out in the villages of Galilee in the 66-74 war.”

Adding that “Rose Parks didn’t do anything other civil rights figures couldn’t have done,” the DePaul University Religious Studies professor recalled Jesus similarly, as part of a river pushing against a logjam, with it breaking through due to several variables at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

“But the river didn’t arrive at that moment,” Crossan asserted. “What happened was a breakthrough, and the breakthrough has a lot to do with time and place. Jesus is not really dropped down from heaven and happens to land in Galilee when he could have landed in Galway [Ireland] and been much different.”

Crossan announced that Jesus’ ministry 30 years prior would have lasted “10 minutes” under Herod the Great, and “five minutes” at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

“Don’t think that just because it happened that it had to happen,” Crossan advised.


17 Responses to Virginia Episcopalians Spotlight Jesus Seminar’s Dominic Crossan

  1. Walt Pryor says:

    Non of these Liberals should be listened too. They are not within the theology of the Holy Bible. These are the wolves in sheep clothing the Bible speaks of. These Liberals speak as if God died on the Cross. They ignore the Holy Spirits work since the time of Jesus. These people go back in time to find some trivial, insignificant point to mislead Christians with. God has shaped the Holy Bible to be what it is today. It is to be accepted and trusted as a little child would. Pride is the root of all sin. Liberals theologians have been seduced by Satan through their own doubts in the Word of God, and through the Civil rights movement of fifty years ago. Like liberal atheist they have never moved beyond the civil rights era. They are still in it today, totally. But because of this bias they have missed all the progress, just as they have missed the Holy Spirits work in the bible and Christianity. Faith in the Word of God is key, because without Faith you cannot please God.

  2. Sort of like inviting someone in on Valentine’s Day to explain to you that the one you love is really not so special and really doesn’t love you. Why do “Christians” give this guy and his bunch any time whatsoever?

  3. John Morris says:

    As usual Crossan shows his ignorance. The Eastern icon of the Resurrection that he describes, is actually the icon of the Descent into Hades. The people are the righteous in Hades, who are able to enter Heaven because Christ destroyed Hades by His Resurrection. As historical work Crossan, work is worthless. A real historian bases his conclusions on serious research in source materials not speculation. Crossan and his companions in the so called Jesus Seminar base their conclusions on pure speculation and nothing but speculation corrupted by their anti-supernatural post-Enlightenment prejudices.

    Fr. John W. Morris, Ph.D. (in history)

  4. All theology is autobiography.

    • gregpaley says:

      Something like that could only come from a graduate of a liberal seminary.

      Maybe YOUR theology is autobiography, but as a Christian I find that looking OUTSIDE myself has opened me up to the nature of God. Anyone whose theology is focused on self is worshipping a very small god. I’m truly amazed that the mainline denominations actively encourage narcissism, as it is the antithesis of the gospel. Judging from the membership numbers, narcissism-masquerading-as-Christianity must not have mass appeal.

  5. Crossan fits the definition of someone who “knows enough to be dangerous.” Like Marcus Borg, he is a darling of the leftist media/academic/entertainment complex owing to his liberal views and iconoclastic approach. Ergo, like most liberals, he has been given an artificially amplified voice in the culture.

    Among the many problems with Crossan are the following: 1) hatred of orthodox Christian beliefs (and probably those who hold them); 2) arrogance in positing that he is uniquely illuminated with respect to who Christ was; 3) lack of transparency: indirect, sometimes disingenuous, sometimes condescending answers to questions about core teachings of Christianity, including questions about his personal beliefs, politics, etc.; 4) not just bias but factual errors in his interpretation of Scripture (e.g., there was a longstanding Jewish acknowledgement of some type of afterlife mentioned as early as Genesis–see “sheol”).

    I believe in free speech, so let Crossan speak. But let’s use our own free speech to point out the many fallacies and unproven assertions in his reasoning. Crossan has done as much to (artificially) deconstruct Christianity as many atheists.

  6. ericvlytle says:

    Incidents like this illustrate the Great Drama that liberals like to fancy they are part of: a liberal “Christian” scholar spouts his liberal message in a liberal church – no danger to him or to the church, no chance of heresy trials or Inquisitions, because it’s 2013 and mocking the Bible raises yawns, even among Christians. But in their mental melodrama, liberals fancy it is still 1413, that the effete Crossan is a saint and potential martyr for spouting his views, just as the congregation puts itself at risk for inviting him in. They sit transfixed by his message, excited at the notion they are doing something naughty and subversive, but it is hardly subversive when most of the Episcopal bishops are just as liberal as Crossan is, or more so. Crossan will die safely in his own bed some day and the liberal press will hail him as the Great Witness for the Truth, as if any sacrifice is involved in mocking Christianity in the 21st century. What a sham faith liberalism is: conform to the secular culture, then pretend that doing so makes you heroic.

  7. Wow. Liberals going ‘back in time’ to prove their theology. Who’d have thunk it? I guess going back in time to prove conservative, orthodox theology is out of the question for them, then. no? One can only guess Crossan and liberals like him have never been to the Holy Land, in which case they would have actually seen Lake Gennessaret (the Sea of Galilee), where Jesus called Peter away from the life of a fisherman. I guess they haven’t seen the ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum, where Jesus first taught when He began His ministry (It was here He said ‘A prophet is never accepted in His own country’). I guess they never been to Jerusalem where, to this day, there’s a hill called Golgotha, whereon Jesus was crucified. And they’ve never been to the garden just outside of Jerusalem (yes, it does exist, I’ve seen it!) which does, in fact, contain an EMPTY TOMB believed even by many Catholics to be the one from which Christ rose from the dead.

    I’ve seen all these sights and many more. I went to the Holy Land back in 1987 when I was in the Army. I was stationed in Augsburg, Germany, and our chapel group planned the trip. I believe with all my heart.

    Seems to me Crossan and others like him are so brainwashed by liberalism and biblical criticism that they just can’t believe. How sad. I wonder if the ‘Easter bunny’ means more to him than the Risen Christ. If so, he’ll have a blessed and joyous Easter!

  8. To gregpaley above:

    You misunderstand my comment. Every true and orthodox theologian I know who puts his theology to paper realizes that he cannot know the whole truth. Our understanding of God is colored by our own sinfulness and failure to see through the glass clearly, to paraphrase St Paul.

    For example:Augustine of Hippo filtered his experience as a pagan philosopher and his experience as a father in his “Confessions” as a means to understand the higher truths. Luther stated he had tried to find forgiveness through “monkery” until he found the truth of justification by faith. Many modern theologians [Tillich especially, in my opinion] denied their own faults and sins by covering them with obscure and dense theological language.

    In other words, a good theologian realizes his views are colored by his own experiences/opinions of God, admits them and then moves on to his work. If each of us can admit our sins, faults and weaknesses then we to can move further towards the real Gospel truths that await us.

    BTW in 2004 I was one of the first Episcopal priests to lose a parish over Robinson’s “ordination” by objecting directly to my Bishop who voted in favor. I am one of two founding clergy of an ACNA parish and am canonically resident in CANA. I graduated from Sewanee in 1996 and am thankful for two reasons

    1.) I was there with the late beloved Dean Guy Fitch Lytle, as orthodox as ANY bishop in ACNA

    2) I learned a lot of valuable lessons of how TEC thinks.

    I appreciate your comment and wish blessing for you in your journey of faith. Fr Dan+

  9. celticbishop says:

    There is nothing new in what Crossan says any more than there is in what Jack Spong says. They are religious celebs on the left just like the t v preachers are on the literalist right. Sometimes when I hear the silliness of the “televangelists” which would make any carnival barker proud, or the ego centric arrogance of the “relativists”, I do not have to wonder why for the overwhelming majority of anyone under 35 church is irrelevant!
    For most of your readers I would be considered one of those pesky liberals or even worse socialist, which by the way I am proudly socialist, and or considered heretical. I do believe in the Nicene Creed and I do accept and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
    It is becuase of that belief that I am a socialist and believe in the inclusion of all God’s children. I meditate on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats often and it is clear that neither televangelists, ultra orthodox Inquisitors, or “theologians” of any kind matter but what does matter is how I treat the least of these my brethren! As for Scriptures the Church gave us Scripture not the other way round and as Jesus warns us it is not in the Scriptures we find our salvation it is in Him!

    • Many elements of socialism are antithetical to Christianity. Those who think otherwise are unfamiiar with the numerous failed historical sojourns into socialism.

      • celticbishop says:

        Have you forgot the apostolic community sharing all with everyone or does that not fit the capitalistic model or perhaps the Pauline condemnation of the love of money as the root of all evil and lastly the words of Jesus who said “you cannot serve wealth and God”! And by the way Scandinavia is anything but a failed sojourn! Believe as you wish but do so less somewhat sophomoric.

      • Learn the facts. You repeat another common misreading of Acts. The sharing of goods in Acts was voluntary among the brethren, not forced by government. There is a very big difference.

        You want to hold up Scandinavia? Parts of Scandinavia resemble a moral cesspool.

        If you want to call fidelity to facts and reality “sophomoric,” then go ahead.

        In perhaps the most comprehensive historical study of socialistic governing, “The Socialist Phenomenon,” Igor Shafarevich (a friend and contemporary of Solzhenitsyn, who wrote an outstanding foreward for the book) recounts how Socialism may have had some short term successes, but long term it ended up imploding and harming “the least of these” more than anyone else. Shafarevich shows how the drive for Earthly Paradise gradually dispensed with God, until the movements became wholly socialist and eventually blew up because they denied human nature.

      • ericvlytle says:

        The “bishop” throws out a non sequitur: Jesus said “You cannot serve wealth and God” – therefore, Christians should be socialists. What nonsense. Socialism essentially turns the state into God, so the most ancient of human creeds – “Jesus is Lord” – is pretty much the antithesis of socialism. I have no love for capitalism, as it’s like any other human endeavor, an expression of man’s sinful nature. However, in this fallen world, the wisest course is to choose the least among the evils, and choosing between capitalism and socialism is a real no-brainer.

        I agree with cleareyedtruth: the passage in Acts that says the first Christians in Jerusalem shared everything is often misused by socialists and communists to support their belief. There is no mandate in the New Testament to impose any kind of communal sharing. As a self-employed person, I have to write 4 very large checks to the IRS over the course of each year, and I begrudge every penny of it. I would love to keep it all for my own use, and that would include various charities of my own choosing, and none of them resemble the US government’s attempts at “fairness.” Maybe the bishop ought to go back to the NT and read Paul’s words about “fairness” to people too lazy to work (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

        • celticbishop says:

          I never knew that outside of the papacy so many conservatives believed in infallibility… that is their own. No wonder why conservatives spend so much time defending the greed that is their god called profit and the mythology that is bibliolatry. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ not Scriptures which after all was given to us by the community of faith not the other way round. Their fear a secular state where religion either stands or falls on its own merits or lack thereof.
          They are no different the Taliban for they have forgotten or they do not know that God neither desires nor needs either a district attorney or a public defender! Lastly I am reminded of two comments, one a remark made by Roger Williams who was relentlessly condemned by the conservatives of his day called the Puritans, you know the ones that once hanged a dog on suspicion of being a Quaker, who told those self appointed guardians of “orthodoxy” that if his colony sheltered heretics who were destined to hell at least they had the freedom to be a heretic! The second is the godly counsel of a Yiddish proverb “never argue with a moron lest a stranger passes by and cannot distinguish which one is the moron”! I bid you peace and a new Pentecost for obviously you missed the first one!

      • That’s right, celticbishop, when you can’t engage rationally just spew out a bunch baseless insults. No different than the Taliban? Morons? And you want to condemn others for their ostensible certitude and narrow-mindedness? Have you lost the capacity for embarrassment?

        You obviously have little interest in civility or rationality.

  10. […] at Juicy Ecumenism, Jeffrey Walton shares key moments of Crossan’s lecture on “The Last Week of […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *