It has become increasingly clear, as scholars have critically studied the origins of Christianity during the past century or so, that the religion of Jesus C who instead of trying to found a new religion was attempting to reform an old one C very quickly turned into a new religion mostly about Jesus. As the famous Protestant biblical scholar, missionary doctor, and musician Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) saw it, all the indications point to the conclusion that Jesus, like his predecessor John the Baptist, was proclaiming the imminent end of the world and much like John, met an untimely end. This was because the preaching of Jesus, like that of John, threatened the status quo and especially those who were in religious and political power.


But unlike the case of John, whose disciples, faced with the fact that final judgment day has not yet arrived were left with a ritual of repentance and a memory, the disciples of Jesus were soon convinced that their Master still lives and that the Kingdom of God has already arrived, at least in principle, in the new movement and its followers who soon became known as "Christians". So the result was that where Jesus preached not about himself but mostly about the Kingdom of God coming to earth, his disciples instead ended up preaching mostly about Jesus.


Was Schweitzer right? If he was, or was even close to being right, then a great deal of what Christianity is about has to be rethought. For if he and others like him were correct, then the Jesus uncovered by historical scholarship (the "Jesus of History") might have had little resemblance to the Jesus worshipped by Christians (the "Christ of Faith"). If so, then Christians will be forced to either put up or shut up C that is, either start acting like Jesus (which includes turning the other cheek, loving ones enemies, sharing all ones worldly goods with those in need, etc.) or else forget about calling themselves "Christians".


All the indications are that Christianity, whether in its traditional or more conservative forms, be it Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on one end of the spectrum, or American-style Evangelicalism and various "fundamentalist" groups on the other, are resisting any such reassessment. In fact, one suspects judging from the Gospel verses they decide that Jesus couldn't have said C that even most of the members of liberal groups, like the so-called "Jesus Seminar", find themselves in a similar bind.


Perhaps this is understandable. No one, no matter how open to new ideas, or in this case recovering old ideals, is comfortable making the changes these ideas might demand. In other words, when it comes to ones own back yard, everyone, no matter how liberal, tends to be a conservative.


So if there is a major crisis in Christianity today, especially in the affluent West (whether it be Western Europe or North America) it is not because of "liberal" biblical or historical scholarship. It is rather because such a rediscovery of who Jesus really was would demand a radical change in our lifestyle and standard of living if we would claim to be his followers. For some Like Schweitzer himself C who went back to school and earned an MD in addition to his Ph.D, and eventually was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work C it could even mean such a radical change as giving up a university position to go off and serve the poorest of the poor in a clinic in Africa!


R W Kropf 1/24/06


Schweitz.doc 588 words 06-01-24.html