The only excuse (a lame one at that) for another book on Jesus is that we are never quite through with him. When the last syllable of the last word about Jesus the Christ has been spoken, a small, balding man who until now has been silent will say, "Just a moment, I . . . "After two thousand years, people still journey to Jesus. They bring a vaunting ego and last year's scar, one unruly hope and several debilitating fears, an unwarranted joy and a hesitant heart--and ask Jesus what to make of it. We have only gradually become aware of the hook in Jesus' promise "I will be with you all days, even to the end of the world." This not only means he will not go away but that we cannot get rid of him. He continues to roll back the stone from the caves we entomb him in. It is only because Jesus insists on inserting himself into the thick of our plots that we insist on commenting on him.
Part of every preface should be a warning to the reader. This book is written by a Church person for Church people. This does not mean the parchments of orthodoxy are unrolled and the towering sentences of Nicea and Chalcedon solemnly read. The term "Church person" is not meant to be derogatory.
Often, in the Puritan imagination of the counterculture, the Church person is pictured as an obligation-hounded, money-oriented hypocrite whose expression of faith ranges from bingo to the parish picnic. But average Church people are well aware that they are tied to both God and Neighbor and want to do fight by them. They have inherited a tradition of outlooks and values which are inspired by the person of Jesus. In this minimal sense, Jesus has always been part of their language and consciousness. Jesus was one of the gifts they received from the people who cared about them. Now Church people must be about the maturing business of personally appropriating Jesus, of finding out who he is and what he means to their increasingly complex life.
This is a book of religious exploration which has plundered theological sources for support and direction. Although scholarship has been employed, it is not a scholarly work. Although in places it summarizes, it is not a popular summary. It is a book about looking through Jesus into the Mystery we share with him. Its presupposition is that words about Jesus are self-involving. We do not dispassionately chat about him and then go our various ways. To talk about Jesus is to reveal the nature and depth of our own investment in the human adventure. In short, this book is a stab at a Jesus-spirituality.
Every book has an ambition which hopes too much. In this case it is the attempt to find a middle road between unfeeling theological dissections of Christ and mindless allegiance to a fundamentalist Jesus. On the one hand, religious explorations of Jesus must not translate him into esoteric language. Since Jesus belongs to all humankind, any understanding of him must fight against exclusivism. Yet the Jesus who has suffered extensively under the theological scalpel seldom recovers his power to enthrall and motivate human life. The only access to him becomes a metaphysical maze which few can travel.
On the other hand, there must be a Jesus other than the one who miraculously saves Mickey Rooney from drugs; there must be a way of loyalty to Jesus which does not mean disloyalty to the fullness of contemporary concerns and knowledge. The brittle and unyielding Jesus of fundamentalism generates Bible-thumping righteousness and a pushy certitude which protests too much. It is a style which does not recognize complexity and confronts every situation with platitude. A faith response to Jesus can never mean abandoning reason. Faith is an eyes-open movement into Mystery and not an eyes-shut, hard swallow of the incredible. Between theological aridity and fundamentalist simplism is the road which (hopefully) the challenging Jesus walks.
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