Monday, December 27, 2010
 POPE’S BOOK- FINAL COMMENTS- Let me try and make my last comments on the Pope’s book [almost done with it- a few pages left] which I have been reading on and off for about a month [I’m in the middle of a study on the Western intellectual tradition- making radio programs- and have been too scattered to do a complete book review]. Let me hit a few high points of the last few chapters that I felt were really insightful. Benedict gives an overview of a Rabbi’s perspective on Jesus [a book the Pope read from the Rabbi]. The Rabbi does not accept Jesus as the Messiah- but is respectful in his approach and the Pope shares the common reason why the Jewish nation rejected Jesus as their Messiah in the 1st century. Being faithful to a theme that runs throughout the book- Benedict shows how Jesus presented himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy about Moses/Jesus ‘that God would raise up a prophet like Moses’- Benedict shows that Jesus presented himself as the ‘New Moses’ and took the position of God himself in the statements he was making concerning his authority. In the Rabbi’s book- that the Pope is explaining- the rabbi covers the sayings of Jesus and comes to the conclusion that faithful Jews could not/ did not receive Jesus as their Messiah because his call to them was for Israel to accept his authority over and above what they knew to be true- their attachment to the Torah [the first 5 books of the bible- the law] and for Israel- as a nation- to accept Jesus- they would be saying ‘we accept a new Moses- and place his authority and words over and above the very foundation of our existence’. Now- these insights are deep- they are coming from a Jewish rabbi who has come to the conclusion that Jesus was presenting himself ‘as God’ to the nation of Israel- and Benedict says he learned a lot from reading this perspective from the Rabbi. I just felt that this section of the book was real valuable. The Pope goes on to explain that Jesus was not repudiating the law- but fulfilling it- and in his explanation he also does a very good job [secretly!] at putting out a hand to the Protestant churches and attempting to reconcile the teachings of Paul on justification by faith [and Paul’s neglect of the law] and the biblical view of Jesus fulfilling the law. Benedict even shares very good insights into the apostolic calling of Peter- and the separate calling of the apostle Paul- his insights are excellent and you can see that he is really making an attempt to bridge the theological gap between Protestants and Catholics. Overall this book [Jesus of Nazareth] is the most Cross/Christ centered book I have read in the past 5 years! [We call this Christology- for those of you who want to learn the terms]. Over these last few years I have made an attempt to read some of the top Protestant writers of the day [Men like N.T. Wright- former Bishop of the church of Durham- England. Not talking about the top best sellers that are basically filled with pop psychology and void of any real learning] and I must confess that no other book has come close to the insights that the Pope has on the Cross and the necessity of believers to identify with Jesus in his death and resurrection- the Pope has done an excellent job at presenting Jesus and the Cross in their proper light. For all you theologians/preachers- the Pope also comes down on the conservative side of historical criticism. That is he certainly is familiar with the whole debate over Liberal/Conservative approaches to scripture [not talking politics here!] and he does another excellent job at dissecting the critics [Bultmann] and challenging many of the false assumptions that the higher critics made while rejecting the historical content of the gospels. The church went thru a century or so debating how reliably accurate the gospels were- many challenged their accuracy in a way that was not fair- that is they began holding the bible up to critical methods of historicity that no other documents were ever held to. These critics came up with methods- called historical criticism- that were quite frankly ‘loony’. And then they used this new criterion to say that the Historical Jesus was a different person than the Jesus from the bible. The Pope does a thoroughly scholarly ‘dissection’ of these faulty approaches- and quite frankly takes them apart in a ‘nice’ way. Yet Benedict also respects the historical studies of the church and handles very well the ‘contradictions’ that some find in the gospels. Many critics have shown how the various gospel writers [especially John’s gospel compared to the 3 others] do show differing accounts on certain aspects of Jesus and his life. To be honest- some of these differences can be problematic- many preachers/believers are generally not aware of some of these differences. The Pope knows them well- and deals with them well. So he does not simply reject the ‘higher critics’ by saying they are wrong, but he shows his familiarity with the subject, and makes a scholarly attempt at representing the ‘conservative’ side of the argument; which basically says ‘the gospels contained in the new testament do very much present to us the historical Jesus’. Needless to say- I agree. So anyway as you can see the book is chock full of excellent insights that would benefit all Christians- I recommend everyone pick up a copy and read it.