Monday, August 18, 2008

On Jesus of Nazareth

I'm the through the better part of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. Of the books I have read by Popes, I have always been surprised and impressed by the quality. Perhaps the pagan in me still disbelieves that the right man can be in a position of power and authority. I am still looking for incompetence.

All of the books and encyclicals of John Paul II left me impressed. Benedict XVI has done the same. And I don't just mean good. I mean, wow, this is a really important book.

Jesus of Nazareth is no exception to this phenomenon. The book begins with the Holy Father remarking on trends in biblical scholarship of the last hundred years that have focused inordinately on the historical critical method. These criticisms of the critics are nothing new. I've read them before and understand the arguments. The Pope also discusses the tendency towards a "liberal" interpretation of biblical meaning, with liberal in this case meaning the type of liberalism characterized by secular humanism. Again, nothing new.

Reading the Pope's book, you can visualize liberal theologians and liberal biblical scholars as the schoolyard bullies of Christian scholarship. They have been taunting and berating the schoolyard with skepticism and doubt. Just like with your run-of-the-mill bully, you know they're not really that tough. Often enough someone will challenge the bully's authority and they will quiet down for a little while, only to start up again when their victims forget the last challenge.

Continuing with the schoolyard analogy, Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth is the equivalent of bringing a Navy SEAL to school who systematically eliminates the bully threat by liquidating any enemy combatants.

I highly recommend the book. Even if you're not going to be engaging in any theological debates in the near future, it is important to have as clear a picture of Jesus as possible. Ideas are powerful and diffusive, especially ideas about who God is and how He behaves towards His creation. Books like Jesus of Nazareth bring clarity. And seeing is a good thing.

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