"Saving Jesus"


"Saving Jesus" is the interestingly titled DVD-based discussion group program for progressive Christians who want to explore their understanding of who Jesus was. The DVD features interview segments with leading progressive authors and scholars--among them John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Cobb, and Matthew Fox.

A church that I do not normally attend but which is a short walk from my office has been offering the series on weekday evenings. Because I am a fan of most of the authors featured in the DVD, and because this is a subject that interests me a great deal, I was eager to attend. I contacted the church office and expressed my interest, and I was told that I was welcome to join in.

I did feel a little awkward because I was not a member of the church, but for the most part the others who attended have been welcoming. The theme of the second week in the series was the incarnation--which goes to the heart of the question of Jesus's nature. Was he divine? Was he fully human and fully divine? What does it mean to be fully human?

The class includes a period of showing the DVD, followed by a group discussion and then breakout sessions in small groups of 3 or 4, and concluding with another full group discussion. My small group consisted of myself and two women who were, I would guess, in their seventies, or maybe eighties. One of the women stated right up front that she didn't consider Jesus to be God. I said that I agreed. I added that I found a lot of value in what John Cobb said in the video about God's role in each "occasion", as process theology views it. In the DVD, John Spong spoke of divinity as a continuum, where all of us have a little of the divine within us to varying degrees, rather than divinity being a simple either-or proposition where Jesus was divine and the rest of us are not. I offered that I liked that idea, and that perhaps Jesus fit on one end of that continuum because he listened more intently to the divine call in each "occasion" that John Cobb alluded to, and that we all have the ability to listen to that call as well. We also discussed, among other things, what it really means to be fully human--an interesting question, actually. In common language, the word "human" is often a synonym for frailty, limitations, and having the capacity for error ("to err is human".) To say that Jesus was fully human is obviously not saying that. When Spong talks about Jesus as being fully human, he probably means that Jesus expressed the human potential fully.

Attending a group session like this can be an uncomfortable process for me. I never really know what people in liberal churches think about Jesus, and I am afraid that my radical theology will be too out of place. There was almost certainly a diversity of opinion among the people who attended. Certainly there was a generally liberal sensibility, but that still spanned a range of views--probably from those who considered Jesus fully divine and fully human, to those who rejected that notion. The general atmosphere, though, was one of respectful exploration rather than debate, which allowed for people to express themselves honestly.

One of the most reassuring things I took away from the experience was that perhaps I am not as far removed from the thinking of others in liberal churches as I sometimes fear. Unless I attend a meeting like this, I often have little way of knowing where people stand. Pastors at church services I attend often just tell the stories from the Bible without really introducing scholarly opinion about the veracity of those stories, and sometimes it isn't clear to me how seriously people in the pews actually take all the mythology. It was therefore nice to go to a church-sponsored event and hear a member of that church come right out and say that she didn't consider Jesus to be God. Perhaps I am not as much on the heretical fringe as I sometimes think.


DaNutz said...

It is awesome that you found a group to go through that course with you. I have the first "living the questions" dvd by the same people. It was pretty good. Unfortunately I didn't have group to share it with me.

I have found several courses at the Unitarian Universalist church near me that I've been attending. I can relate to your difficultings fitting in a new group. It is even worse when culture and age differences make the barriers even higher. The UU church here is running courses on the Jesus seminar (some of those same people in saving Jesus), process Theology, Mythology (Josheph Campbell's dvd series), and Buddhism 101.

I'm enjoying the classes and may have found a more regular place to plug in. I never wanted to go to the UU church but I'm atleast a regular visitor now that I've found these great weekly courses.