Sexually Active Gay Clergy

April 10, 2014

DC Methodists Host Resurrection-Denying Seminar on Historical Jesus

The historical figure of Jesus was not intended to be the center of worship, rather a sage pointing towards a politically utopian Kingdom of God, according to two lecturers who recently spoke at a prominent United Methodist church in Washington, D.C.

Melanie Johnson-Debaufre of United Methodist Drew University Theological School and Robert J. Miller of Juniata College appeared as part of the Jesus Seminar on the Road program. The Jesus Seminar is a once-prominent body of liberal scholars and laypersons who used to gain headlines by disputing the Gospels’ historicity. The group draws from sources outside of the Biblical canon in order to produce what they assert to be a more authentic view of Jesus than the church espouses.

The talks were part of a series on “Jesus in the First and Twenty-First Centuries” held April 4-5 given to about 60 mostly retirement-age persons seated over the image of a labyrinth at the parish hall of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, the “national church” of United Methodism. The event was co-sponsored by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill.

In her 2006 book “Jesus Among Her Children: Q, Eschatology, and the Construction of Christian Origins,” Johnson-Debaufre sought to understand the historical Jesus using the hypothesized early source text of Q. The Drew professor proposes alternative ways of reading Q that place the “basileia” (commonly translated as Kingdom) of God at the focus of Q’s interest rather than the identity and uniqueness of Jesus.

In arguing for an analysis of parables shorn from scripture writers’ framing, Johnson-Debaufre said it was for the purpose of “communal deliberation.”

“Invite Paul to be a conversation partner, not one who tells us what to do,” Johnson-Debaufre suggested. While the Drew Theological School professor stated that Paul did not author the Pastoral Epistles, she affirmed that he “probably” believed women should be quiet in church, or condemned same-sex intimacy.

“But just because he held those views doesn’t mean we have to,” Johnson-Debaufre asserted.

Miller was direct in his presentation, noting that participants in the Jesus Seminar are convinced that Jesus did not hold beliefs that God will intervene directly and decisively in the near future, or that Jesus himself will return in a second coming.

“Jesus’ teachings would have looked different if he lived until 60,” Miller declared, adding that “inevitable compromises” would have occurred.

“A lot of Jesus’ teaching is unrealistic because it represents a vision, not a program,” claimed Miller. The Juniata College professor went on to suggest discarding what he alleged doesn’t work from the past and carrying the rest into the future. “Religions don’t live on if they don’t stay relevant.”

The author also critiqued a series of Gospel stories, including the miraculous story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with the loaves and fish.

“This story never happened – its fiction,” Miller flatly stated, adding that it does remember something authentic about Jesus – that he advanced the importance of sharing with others. In this way, Miller sought to preserve aspects of the scriptures that he found helpful while discarding those pieces that were in conflict with his interpretation.

“I don’t believe the dead body of Jesus got up and walked out of the tomb,” Miller, a Roman Catholic, similarly declared.

Focus on Kingdom of God or Jesus?

“In the Gospel of John, Jesus is his own favorite topic of discussion,” asserted Miller. Charging that the Gospels “cannot be read as straight-up literal accounts,” Miller determined that differences between the four Gospels could not be chalked up to mere differences in the authors’ perspectives.

Instead, Miller described the Gospels as stories about Jesus in the past presented as a message to the writers’ present time. The Gospels, Miller claimed, were a “blending” of voices “adding memory.” The search for the historical Jesus, then, is to train ears to discern different voices – when Jesus himself is speaking, and when others are.

“It is not devaluing the Bible to understand human processes by which it was written,” Miller insisted. “The goal of the Jesus Seminar is to take the Bible seriously without taking in literally.”

“We don’t find evidence that his [Jesus’] body left the tomb, that Jesus considered himself messiah or that his death would be a sort of human sacrifice to atone for sin.”

Instead, Miller proposed that Jesus was to be understood as a sage.

“The life, message and teachings of the historical Jesus were not about me – about salvation,” Miller declared. “[Jesus] had almost nothing to say about personal salvation and a lot to say about taking care of other people.”

The Juniata College professor also asserted that what Jesus believed about the afterlife was largely unknown.

“We can give up worrying about it [the afterlife] and focus on the only life we know that we have,” Miller suggested, adding that the meaning of our lives is not about where we go when we die but what we leave behind. “That gets us close to Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God.”

Charging that the historical Jesus “deliberately avoided making himself the center of attention,” Miller mused “what if we didn’t worry about salvation of people in other religions?” or on worshiping the divine, and instead “put energy into celebrating his presence.”

Johnson-Debaufre largely agreed with Miller on this point, declaring that Jesus would be “embarrassed” at the singing of the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Acknowledging that the Gospel of Mark “sets it up that Jesus is the good news,” the Drew professor asserted there was a tension between a focus on Jesus and a focus on the Kingdom of God.

Miller pointed to the Q source suggesting that it offered a glimpse into the early movement surrounding Jesus before it was consciously Christian, and thus Jesus was not referred to as messiah or Christ.

“Thinking with Jesus”

Much of Johnson-Debaufre’s presentation centered on a proposal that a Gospel focus on the figure of Jesus alone “means we lose a lot.” The Gospel stories, she claimed, should be viewed as “thinking with Jesus” rather than about him.

The Drew professor suggested understanding the parables as conversation starters in which earlier elements had been forgotten, and which served as “community pedagogy.” In this understanding, Jesus points towards a Kingdom of God that is centered on “social dreaming” and ways of living, serving to make people move towards a utopia on the horizon.

Much like her assessment of Paul, Johnson-Debaufre’s approach of Matthew and Luke was to deconstruct their writing.

“After you’ve read it my way, you can go back and invite them into conversation as conversation partners rather than as the people who tell us what it means,” the Drew professor noted. Adding that Luke was written “to say you can be a Christian in the world and not be a threat to the Roman Empire,” Johnson-Debaufre criticized what she depicted as Christianity’s adoption of imperial language.

“Do we want God to be an absolute military ruler?” Johnson-Debaufre asked, questioning the idea of God as effectively an emperor figure.

Johnson-Debaufre also sought to draw upon feminist historical principles, urging seminar participants to “read against the grain” in order to reconstruct women “in a patriarchal text.”


  • Donnie

    I never understood why the so-called “Jesus Seminary” is considered part of Christianity. I see no difference between them and the Richard Dawkins of the world. Maybe that’s the point.

  • Bill

    How can they point to a source that they’ve never seen? Q doesn’t exist and never did. You can’t reference something as factual when it’s fictional. They’re opinions are not only ridiculous and heretical, but they’re based on a piece of writing that doesn’t exist.

    • Gabe

      If you are trying to debunk the Bible, you can do all sorts of things that you cannot do when determining the veracity of other historical documents. Making up the Q source and denying the evidence against the heretical writings is a lot easier than bending the knee to Christ.

      • Thomas

        “Q” as a source has been hypothesized since the 1800s, by Herbert Marsh, a bishop in the Church of England, among others around that time. From what I’ve read about this, it appears that he and others were trying to understand how the Gospels came to be written, not debunk them. (Of course, there will be people who try to use “Q” in all sorts of ways — but I don’t think the originators of the Q hypothesis were debunkers.) Do you know more about these scholars of the 1800s?

  • Andrew Orlovsky

    Really, it all makes sense. In order to make the claim that Jesus had no issue with homosexuality, you also have say the Bible is complete fiction and even the resurrection never occured. I think many of these “Progressive Christians” are recognizing the futility of the argument that the bible is still generally reliable, but that Paul was just talking about pedophilia or male prostitution.

  • Scott

    I find what these “scholars” are doing to be an embarrassment to Christianity. Either Jesus is who he says he is — the Messiah — or he is nothing. The day this message being preached/discussed at Metropolitan is presented at my local Methodist church is the day I finally leave it altogether. I only wish that where I live there was a dynamic, evangelical, biblically based Anglican church — like Christ Church in Plano, TX.

    • Geary

      Fortunately, there are still a lot of us United Methodist pastors who are grounded in the Bible and preach the Wesleyan way. But I wonder for how long?

    • Thomas

      I’m not at all arguing what churches should preach but am curious about this: “Either Jesus is who he says he is — the Messiah — or he is nothing.” It seems to me that there were many people who had a profound spiritual impact on civilization – Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther among many others. They were not the Messiah, but they were rather more than nothing. Does not Jesus’s teaching and example have enormous significance and much to teach those who do not see him as the Messiah?

  • Bob

    Really? These guys still at it? A first year seminary student could debunk their positions. Why in the world would a real Methodist church invite them to speak….Oh yeah , that’s it. They wouldn’t.

    • Paul W.

      Sadly, these “scholars” ARE the ones teaching our first-year seminary students. This is a big reason that the mainline denominations are spiritually dead.

      The key goal of many of these unbelieving professors is to tear down any orthodox faith that the students have when they first enter seminary. The mainline denominations don’t correct this since most of those in charge also had their faith destroyed (or severely damaged) when they were seminary students (if they had any faith to start with).

  • Josh

    *mocking* “Don’t worry, we don’t have to take the Bible literally, or draw moral implications from it. We can just base our conclusions about morality on what we think the bible ISN’T saying.”
    …waaait

  • Kelvin Smith

    And exactly why would a dreamy sage like this supposed Jesus get crucified?

  • Drew McIntyre

    I had no idea the Jesus seminar was even still around. Wow.

    • Geary

      I had never heard of it and I am a graduate of a Methodist seminary in the 60’s. Wish I still hadn’t heard of it!

  • I Never Knew You…

    Hope the “60 mostly retirement age persons” got a good nap, and didn’t have to listen to this pathetic excuse for scholarship. Completely corrupt, thoroughly unbiblical and entirely anti-Christian. “This story never happened…” Wow.

  • Richard Hicks

    The tone of this article and the following comments show just how out of touch with reality you people are. I just can tell you how many times the inmates I teach/lead in worship and the other shoppers at WalMart have come up to me and ask a “Jesus of History v Christ of Faith” question. To quote Jesus, “GO in to all the . . . ” “Go” implies being up off you butts moving out into the market place of ideas, joys, and struggles. Thanks, Richard Hicks, OKC

    • Paul W.

      Anyone who disparagingly refers to those they lead or teach in the church as “inmates” or “shoppers at WalMart” needs to immediately step down or be removed from ministry. Disdain for those under your care is unacceptable prideful arrogance.

  • Byron

    This is just another example of wolves in sheep clothing. I’ve been a pastor of a similar type church, and I preached the full atonement of Jesus Christ. I lasted a year thanks to a hand full of liberal laity and a district superintendent who didn’t believe in the full atonement of Christ. Rationalizing away absolute truth is the fertilizer for a bountiful crop of moral relativism.

  • Ron Henzel

    “Religions don’t live on if they don’t stay relevant.”

    And yet biblical Christianity consistently continues to live long after people declare it irrelevant. I guess that makes statements like this—well, irrelevant!

  • Dante Bartolome

    It is regrettable that these people are given a forum to mock God and spread heresy. And even more apalling, in a church sponsored event, of all places.

  • Billy H. Weems

    1. Moral relativist create their own truth which is a lie.
    2. As a sinner I always tried to justify my actions.
    3. If I can debunk truth; I can create my own ethical position.
    4. Jesus Christ, The Son of Man, who of the Son of God, said; “You shall know.the truth and.the truth will set you free” He also.said; “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes tonthe Father except through me.”
    5. If Jesus wasn’t who he sais he was why would he endure crucifixtion?
    6. If Paul and the other apostles did not believe Jesus was really the Messiah, why would they have died such horrendous deaths for their beliefs?

    There is only word that can adequately desribe these Jesus Seminar but, as Christians wr should nwver say it!

  • Karen Booth

    Decades ago I had conversation about the resurrection with a female senior pastor from another “progressive” church in the DC area. It was pretty obvious that, for her, the resurrection was a “nice idea” that should somehow make us all better persons, though she couldn’t specifically say how.

    I often wonder what progressives at her church and this Jesus-Seminar-sponsoring church sing on Easter morning. How can they join in the great celebratory hymns of faith without crossing their fingers first?

  • Richard

    I’m quite surprised by the backlash. I find both speakers saying what thinking Christians have said down through my eighty years of living, and before I was born. Why are so many people in the Church afraid to think? If you don’t think you don’t grow, and it all starts with doubting, one of our more noble gifts. People need to do more homework.

    • BobRN

      Richard, it’s insulting to say that the reason people find the conclusions of these professors to be specious is that they are afraid to think. That’s just a way of shutting down the discussion. “You oppose them because you’re afraid, not thinking and won’t do your homework.” In other words: “You’re stupid and lazy, and I don’t have to take you seriously.”
      The conclusions of these scholars sound more like their own opinions than serious consideration of the Gospels. This is not what serious Christians (another insult: if you don’t think this way, you’re not serious) have been thinking for the last century or more. It’s what scholars with an agenda have been pushing.
      In any case, it seems that the only people these so-called scholars are attracting to their lectures are the liberals of the past. Twenty years from now, there’ll be no one left to listen.

      • Thomas

        I agree with BobRN that labeling someone afraid to think is no way to have a conversation. I attended the seminar as well and enjoyed it and would probably agree with “Richard” in other respects.

        Is there a conversation to be had here? For instance, Miller highlighted the phrase my church (among many) uses at Communion – “After supper, he took the cup…” and suggested that, among first century Christ-followers, an entire meal took place between the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, a meal to which everyone was invited. I was moved by that vision.

    • Donnie

      Richard,

      If we deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, then Christianity is like any other religion. It’s the very crux of our faith. If Christ simply died and that was the end of it, we have no hope of a risen Savoir.

    • Paul W.

      Richard, thinking Christians have absolutely not been saying this down through your 80 years of life. The folks saying this are non-Christians who are call themselves Christians either because they are blinded or because it is useful for furthering their agendas — they are unredeemed wolves who are storing up wrath against the day of wrath.

  • David Lee

    Is there no recourse provided for by the UMC Discipline against those who invite heretics to speak at a UMC-owned facility?

  • Stogumber

    From a German point of view, this liberal stuff isn’t new. But there is an interesting difference. The German liberal scholars discovered around 1900, that Jesus hadn’t predicted a better world but the end of the world, coming soon. That was a shattering discovery, but these scholars were sincere in their way and didn’t try to hide it. As a result, the liberal movement lost ground; among others, Albert Schweitzer left theology at all and turned to practical Christianity.
    Now, these Jesus seminarists seem to deny just this discovery , and not for scientific reasons, but for practical reasons – because it doesn’t suit their message.

  • Nika-kc

    This is why I left the United Methodist Church in which I was raised and became an Eastern Orthodox Christian. So happy I did, best thing I have ever done.