Christianity: Without Christ, Without Jesus


Thomas Sheehan's book The First Coming is full of interesting ideas. While I might not agree 100% with everything he says, I find that his provocative notions about turning away from a religion about Jesus and returning to the religion of Jesus resonate with my own theology. And, as a self-described heretic, I like what he has to say about heresy. In his book, he writes:

In the broadest sense, heresy (from the Gree hairesis: taking, choosing, taking sides) is an essential contituent of all hermeneutics (in Greek hermeneia: interpretation, taking something as something). The history of Christianity through the centuries is, in fact, a history of its hermeneutical heresies, not just the heresies that the church has condemned and excluded, but also, and above all, the orthodox heresies, the acceptable takes/mis-takes that have come to constitute mainstream Christianity. Thus, over against the heresy that is Christianity I propose another, one that consists in understanding the message of the kingdom of God without Christ and without Jesus: (1) "without Christ," that is, without interpretations that equate the kingdom of God with Christ's salvific acts (functional christology) and ultimately with his divine person (ontological christology); (2) "without Jesus", that is, not dismissing the prophet, but also not turning him into an idol. "Without Jesus" means without attributing to him any power beyond the natural, human power everyone has: that of being a culturally determined, historically relative interpreter of one's world and one's own life. This means that for all the natural gifts and talents he once displayed, and regardless of whether one chooses to take him as a model for enacting the kingdom, Jesus is ultimately dispensable. He is not irreplaceable--in fact, he demands to be displaced so that one can get to what he is about. Jesus is not the object of the message he preached. The proclaimer of the kingdom gives way to the reality he proclaimed.

"The kingdom of God" is a language, an interpretation of human existence that was preached and lived by Jesus in the past and that can be reinterpreted and lived out by people today. (p.224; emphasis added).
In my previous posting, I discussed the subject of re-imagining Jesus. But perhaps even more important that re-imagining Jesus is the task of re-imagining the kingdom of God that Jesus preached about.


Jan said...

Have you read many books about the historical Jesus? This seems like an older book, and I am wondering if I should read it or not. I agree that Christianity has become too much a religion about Jesus, worshipping Jesus, with little mention of God. With the release of more gnostic texts, I wonder more and more what is heresy and what is truth.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jan, you are right that it is an older book, and it probably doesn't reflect the latest scholarship. I know that the author still teaches (at Stanford now) and some of his classes are available online, or at least I've run across a reference to that, so I think it would be interesting to know what he thinks nowadays. I did hear part of a radio interview that he did recently, and it didn't seem like his views have changed much, but I am not entirely sure about that.

Teresaok said...

I came across this site when I put God without Christianity into a search engine. Most of what came up was in fact Christianity without God!
As recently as 18 months ago I had a revelation that though I still deeply believed in God I no longer believed that Jesus was his son made man-probably a very nice chap, possibly a prophet and a martyr. Will this book give me something to think about or maybe reinforce my thinking?

Mystical Seeker said...


I think you might find the book helpful. It is a little old and I don't know if it is still in print, but I'm sure you can find a copy somewhere.

James Hufferd said...

CAESAR'S MESSIAH, by Joseph Atwill, is a recent book that fairly convincingly proves that the New Testament and all of its characters are a compound work of fiction written by Jewish priests under contract with Titus and other Roman emperors to create a new, managable form of Judaism to replace the unmanagable form. I believe, nevertheless, in a universal god, or beneficent, all-powerful intelligence, because I have received otherwise-inexplicable miracles and messages at times. I have no objection to Jesus, except I doubt he actually existed.

wallace said...

I believe jesus existed, just as moses,,ezekiel (sp),and muhamoud did. Having said that, I do not believe he was the son of god. That is to me, a man made contrivance of the same story like miracles, he was supposed to have done. These miracles and his status as s.o.g. Are just made up stories of his followers (disciples) or exagerations. Humans making themselves more important by embelishing the facts.