By way of an update to last week’s rant about Aslan and his newly released Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, The Economist published a damning review of the book; and The Chronicle of Higher Education marshaled responses by a number of New Testament scholars to Aslan’s main claim that Jesus was essentially just another political revolutionary. (I’m grateful to fellow saint and sinner Paul for making me aware of these developments.)
A couple of you also responded to my post.
Fellow saint and sinner Sal asked what I meant by “following Jesus.” Here is how I answered (and there may be more to come on this worthy topic):
Thanks for reading and for your question. To answer it, I’d begin by saying that my definition of following Jesus follows from how I view who Jesus is. I believe Jesus is God Himself, the Word, the Alpha and Omega, etc, and as such, is at the center of our (human) existence whether or not we acknowledge Him. But what that means, then, for me, is that we all, regardless of whether we are Christians, Muslims, etc., stand in some sort of relationship to this One who holds the universe together. Whether we are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., we all at various points in our lives are standing with our faces toward Jesus or with our backs towards Him. We are all either moving towards Jesus or walking away from Him and this general relation in which we stand does not depend on whether or not we are self-professing Christians.
I also believe that there are gradations of following Jesus. Following Jesus means worship with our lives, learning about Jesus, studying his words and imitating his actions. Most Christians fall somewhere on this spectrum of following Jesus; but it may also be the case that a professing Muslim falls somewhere on this spectrum, too. An example from the Bible might be Naaman, who after being healed says to Elisha that he will worship the Lord but asks for forgiveness about the fact that when he serves his master he will continue to bow down to a false god.
There are also, I’m convinced, “invisible Christians” of the kind Karl Rahner acknowledges who have lived their lives more like Jesus than those of us who call ourselves Christians (Gandhi, for example)….but what do you think about all of this?
My question for Sal is also for you…what do you think it means to follow Jesus? Leave your thoughts below and I’ll republish them.
Fellow saint and sinner Wendel said he read Aslan’s book and that its reasoning was clear, but Wendel (in response to my invocation of N.T. Wright) said he was curious to know what N.T. Wright thinks about Aslan’s treatment of the apostle Paul’s claims regarding Jesus. With respect to Wright’s opinions, I still can’t help you, Wendel, but here is what New Testament scholar Paula Fredriksen opines, according to the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Ms. Fredriksen finds two major flaws in the Jesus-as-zealot line of argument. First, early accounts of Jesus in Paul’s letters, which predate all the Gospels by at least 15 or 20 years, “have no such politically incendiary tradition,” she says. “Further, Paul’s social-political ethics (keep your nose down and your powder dry, because God is about to step in and change/end history—that’s a very loose translation of Romans 13) are echoed by other nonviolence motifs and passive-resistance teachings in the later Gospels.”
In accordance with my main grievance with Aslan’s work (at least as that work is conveyed in the extended excerpt of the book that Aslan shared with The Huffington Post), New Testament scholar Craig Evans “sees Zealot less as a contribution to scholarship…than as a ‘personal interpretation’ informed by ‘some of the scholarly literature.'”
To which Fredriksen adds that there is little of new scholarly interest in Aslan’s line of thinking that the historical Jesus is just a political zealot. Not only is the reasoning flawed, in short, it is also uninspired and far too familiar.
Finally, by way of an update to The Bat…I was somehow able to muster up enough courage to put on a pair of yellow latex kitchen gloves and creep into the upstairs guest bedroom early the next morning, with the moral support of my six-year-old son who had said he’d do the deed then chickened out at the last minute. The bat appeared to be sleeping (or else unconscious after hitting the circulating ceiling fan that I intentionally had left on as I ran screaming from the room in the middle of the night). I slipped the bat into a Tupperware and told my son to take him outside and deposit him gently a few houses down from ours.
Today the critter removal guys come. It turns out that bat was only one of a whole bunch now nesting somewhere in our attic or walls.