Peace and the Gospel: “Peace in Paul and Luke”

October 23rd, 2015

Some of you may be interested in this little book I just published on peace.

SBL Suggestions for Atlanta 2015

October 21st, 2015

Following are the 2015 sessions of the SBL and AAR groups of which I am in one way or another a part, either on the steering committee, as a participant this year, or as the father of a participant (Mark is delivering a paper). If you go to everything listed here, you will have very little free time–and you will have to bilocate! (Of course I am not listing all the great SBL sessions!) My own direct involvement is chairing a session on C.S. Lewis and the Bible and responding to a panel review of my book Becoming the Gospel.


S21-148 Theological Interpretation of Scripture
Saturday 11/21/2015

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom B (Level 2) – Hilton

Theme: Theological Interpretation of Daniel in the MT and LXX
All papers will be read in their entirety.


Thomas Holsinger-Friesen, Spring Arbor University, Presiding (5 min)
Richard S. Briggs, University of Durham
The Eclipse of Daniel’s Narrative: The Limits of Historical Knowledge in the Theological Reading of Daniel (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Tim Meadowcroft, Laidlaw College
“One Like a Son of Man” in the Court of the Foreign King (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Break (5 min)
Bogdan G. Bucur, Duquesne University
Christological and Trinitarian Exegesis of Daniel 7 in Early Christianity (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jennie Grillo, Duke University
Reading Resurrection in the Additions to Daniel (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Discussion (20 min)


P21-123 GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics
Saturday 11/21/2015
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Room: Courtland (Atlanta Conference Level) – Hyatt

Theme: Biblical Formation of the Congregation for Missional Witness
This session of the GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics includes papers on the theology and practice of biblical formation in the faith community: that is, the role of the Bible and its interpretation in the process of forming “Scripture-shaped communities” (Richard Hays) for mission in the world, in concrete contexts.


James C. Miller, Asbury Theological Seminary, Presiding (5 min)
Mark Glanville, Trinity College – Bristol
Radical Gratitude and the Mission of God: Nourishing Celebration and Inclusivism in Local Congregations in light of the Festival Calendar (Deut 16:1-17) (25 min)
Boaz Johnson, North Park University
Missional Theology and Congregation Formation in the Torah (25 min)
Michael Barram, Saint Mary’s College of California
To Serve God and Not Mammon: Reading Matthew 6 as Missionally Located Formation for Economic Discipleship (25 min)
Break (5 min)
Mark Labberton, Fuller Theological Seminary, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (40 min)


S21-249 Theological Interpretation of Scripture
Saturday 11/21/2015
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Room: A602 (Atrium Level) – Marriott

Theme: Trinity in/and the Bible
All papers will be read in their entirety.


Brent Laytham, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Presiding
Murray Rae, University of Otago
Biblical Foundations of a Trinitarian Hermeneutic (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Mark S. Gignilliat, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
Wish Fulfillment or Real Presence? The Old Testament’s Trinity (20 min)
Andrea D. Saner, Eastern Mennonite University
Trinitarian Judgments in/and the Book of Exodus (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Break (5 min)
Matthew Bates, Quincy University
Christology of Divine Identity? Septuagintal Dialogues in the New Testament as Trinitarian Critique (20 min)
Wesley Hill, Trinity School for Ministry
Paul and the Narratable Divine Identity (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)



S22-147/A22-121 Theological Interpretation of Scripture
Sunday 11/22/2015
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: A704 (Atrium Level) – Marriott

Theme: Bonhoeffer as Theological Interpreter
This session is co-sponsored with the Bonhoeffer: Theology and Social Analysis Group (AAR). Papers will be read in their entirety. This session investigates aspects of Bonhoeffer as a theological interpreter of Christian scripture. Papers explore Bonhoeffer’s own exegetical practice and its application in particular cases, examine the role of exegesis in the construction of Bonhoeffer’s own distinctive theological positions, and consider Bonhoeffer’s understanding of scripture and its consequences for contemporary debates about theological exegesis.


Myk Habets, Carey Baptist College, Presiding (5 min)
R. Walter Moberly, University of Durham
Bonhoeffer’s “Creation and Fall” Revisited (25 min)
Tyler Atkinson, Bethany College (KS)
Bonhoeffer, Qoheleth, and the “Natural Joy of Bodily Life” (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Break (5 min)
Chris Dodson, University of Aberdeen
“The Person Who Receives Blessing . . . Must Also Suffer Much”: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Herrmann, and a Hermeneutic of Suffering (25 min)
Derek W. Taylor, Duke University
Nonreligious and yet Theological: Bonhoeffer’s Interpretation in a World Come of Age (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)


S22-211 Christian Theology and the Bible
Sunday 11/22/2015
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: International 5 (International Level) – Marriott

Theme: Special Session on C.S. Lewis and the Bible
This session concentrates upon the relationship between biblical scholarship and the figure of C. S. Lewis. Lewis himself was a specialist in medieval and Renaissance English literature, yet he was well known even before his death (on the same day as John F. Kennedy) as an apologist for Christianity, an author of semi-popular theological studies, and a writer of fiction informed by the Bible. His work on the Bible and academic biblical scholarship appears mainly in essays and letters, in passing throughout his fiction and monographs, and in biblical imagery and allusions in various works. Of particular interest is his use of polyvalence and narrative to explore debated or complex questions, his reactionary dismissal of quests for the historical Jesus and much of the historical-critical method, and his integration of biblical themes with symbols and concepts from various diverse contexts. Lewis is a writer whose continuing impact upon various readerships is undeniable, though he is less celebrated among biblical scholars and theologians than among those outside these guilds. Investigation into how he both confirms and challenges the assumptions of standard biblical scholarship provides a helpful bridge between biblical scholars and the broader constituency that continues to appreciate his work.


Michael J. Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Presiding
Leslie Baynes, Missouri State University
Lewis vs. Bultmann: Myth as Fact or Fiction? (30 min)
Patrick Gray, Rhodes College
C.S. Lewis and the Historical Jesus in the Screwtape Letters (30 min)
Myk Habets, Carey Baptist College
Mere Christianity for Mere Gods: C.S. Lewis and Theosis (30 min)
Edith M. Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Checking the Demon and Saying What’s to Be Said (30 min)
Kevin Vanhoozer, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (15 min)


S22-235 Pauline Soteriology
Sunday 11/22/2015
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: A602 (Atrium Level) – Marriott

Theme: Paul, Poverty, and the Powers


Richard Hays, Duke University, Presiding
Bruce W. Longenecker, Baylor University
Malignant Forces, Perpetual Poverty, and the Body of Christ: Theologizing toward an Eschatological Reality (30 min)
Robert Moses, High Point University
Paul, Poverty, and the Powers: The Body of Christ as Response (30 min)
Break (10 min)
A. Grieb, Virginia Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Luke Bretherton, Duke University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (50 min)


P22-318 GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics
Sunday 11/22/2015
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Marquis A-B (Marquis Level) – Marriott

Theme: Review Panel Discussion of Michael J. Gorman’s book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Eerdmans, 2015)
As a leading voice among Pauline scholars, Michael J. Gorman has written a number of significant books and articles on Paul’s theology in recent years, including Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Theology of the Cross (2001) and Inhabiting the Cruciform God (2009). His most recent contribution, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Eerdmans, 2015), extends and develops some of the themes highlighted initially in earlier works, and places particular emphasis on mission as an interpretive rubric for the Pauline epistles—an outgrowth, in part, of his work with the GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics. In the introduction to Becoming the Gospel, Gorman calls his “affiliation with the Forum” “one of the most important professional developments for me in recent years,” noting that “learning to read Paul missionally—not merely as the quintessential ‘missionary’ but as a formator of missional communities—has been an exhilarating experience” (p. 10). Specifically, Gorman argues that “theosis—Spirit-enabled transformative participation in the life and character of God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus—is the starting point of mission and is, in fact, its proper theological framework” (p. 4). Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating panel discussion—including responses by a fellow Pauline scholar, a congregational pastor, a missiologist, and a theologian—followed by an open-ended conversation about the missiological dimensions of Paul’s theology as illuminated in Gorman’s work.


Sylvia Keesmaat, Trinity College, University of Toronto, Presiding (5 min)
Michael J. Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Panelist (20 min)
J. Ross Wagner, Duke University, Panelist (15 min)
Eunice McGarrahan, First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, Panelist (15 min)
Break (5 min)
George Hunsberger, Western Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
John Franke, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven, Panelist (15 min)
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (40 min)


A22-329 Wesleyan Studies Group

Theme: Wesleyan Culture and the Public Square since the Mid-Twentieth Century

Edgardo Colon-Emeric, Duke University, Presiding

Sunday 11/22/2015 – 5:00 PM-6:30 PM

Hilton-Grand Salon E (Level 2)

This session will focus on late twentieth and early twenty-first century leaders whose lives in the public square have been explicitly influenced by Wesleyan perspectives. Papers will draw direct connections between the person’s work in the public square and the influence of Methodism.


Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

Nelson Mandela and the Methodist Church of South Africa: An African Christian Humanist Approach to Social Holiness

Mark Gorman, Centre United Methodist Church, Forest Hill, MD

The “Iconic” Methodist: George W. Bush and the State of Contemporary United Methodism

Natalya Cherry, Southern Methodist University

Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr., Called by King “The Greatest Teacher of Nonviolence in America”


Rebekah Miles, Southern Methodist University



S23-133 Pauline Soteriology
Monday, 11/23/2015
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Marquis A-B (Marquis Level) – Marriott

Theme: Review of John Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans 2015)


Alexandra Brown, Washington and Lee University, Presiding
Joel Marcus, Duke University, Panelist (20 min)
Margaret Mitchell, University of Chicago, Panelist (20 min)
Miroslav Volf, Yale University, Panelist (20 min)
Break (10 min)
John Barclay, University of Durham, Respondent (40 min)
Discussion (40 min)


P23-118 GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics
Monday, 11/23/2015
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: University (Atlanta Conference Level) – Hyatt

Theme: Biblical Formation of the Congregation for Missional Witness
This session of the GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics includes papers on the theology and practice of biblical formation in the faith community: that is, the role of the Bible and its interpretation in the process of forming “Scripture-shaped communities” (Richard Hays) for mission in the world, in concrete contexts.


Darrell Guder, Princeton Theological Seminary, Presiding (5 min)
Laura R. Levens, Baptist Seminary of Kentucky
Many Voices, Many Contexts, One Faith: Engaging the Breadth of Scripture to Form Discerning, Missional Congregations (25 min)
Luke Ben Tallon, LeTourneau University and Aaron Kuecker, LeTourneau University
A Liturgy of Ascent and a Life of Ascent: Conforming Congregations to Christian Scripture (25 min)
Derek W. Taylor, Duke University
Forming Faithful Readers: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Missional Hermeneutic (25 min)
Break (5 min)
Benjamin T. Conner, Western Theological Seminary, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (40 min)


S23-314 Christian Theology and the Bible
Monday 11/23/2015
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Hanover E (Exhibit Level) – Hyatt

Theme: Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture
This panel will consider the relationship between spirituality and the Bible. Each panelist will respond briefly to the question, “What are the hallmarks of the spiritual interpretation of Scripture?” There will be time for discussion among the panelists as well as substantial time for Q&A and discussion between the panelists and those attending the session.


Pieter De Villiers, University of the Free State, Presiding (15 min)
Gordon McConville, University of Gloucestershire, Panelist (15 min)
Bo Karen Lee, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
Andrew Lincoln, University of Gloucestershire, Panelist (15 min)
Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Panelist (15 min)
Discussion (75 min)



S24-112 Christian Theology and the Bible
Tuesday 11/24/2015
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Hanover F (Exhibit Level) – Hyatt

Theme: The Anagogical Interpretation of Scripture
This session will focus on the anagogical interpretation of Scripture; it is the fourth and final session in our series exploring the traditional four senses of Scripture (literal, allegorical, tropological, anagogical). In brief, anagogical sense of Scripture is the exegesis of Scripture in relation to eschatological hope and the life to come. Each of the invited panelists will respond to the following questions: respond to the following questions: “What is the role of the anagogical sense of Scripture in the figure or area that you study? And, why is the anagogical sense a significant and important way to read Scripture?”

Arthur M. Sutherland, Loyola University Maryland, Presiding
Hans Boersma, Regent College
Purity, Perfection, and Beatific Vision: The Upward Journey to Christ in Gregory of Nyssa (30 min)
Kevin L. Hughes, Villanova University
Ecclesia contemplativa: On the Relationship between the Mystical and Eschatological in St. Bonaventure’s Anagogia (30 min)
Eboni Marshall Turman, Duke University
Black. Life. Matter. Toward A Black Feminist/Womanist Eschatology (30 min)
Francesca Murphy, University of Notre Dame
The Bible and the Analogical Imagination (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)

John 15 and Mission: Preview 1 of my New Book on Missional Hermeneutics

October 8th, 2015

During my sabbatical in 2015-2016, I am working on a new book in missional hermeneutics, this time (unlike Becoming the Gospel) focusing on the non-Pauline NT literature. I will be posting occasional excerpts of that work, in draft form, on these pages from time to time. Since I am beginning “in the beginning,” to so speak (that is, with the Gospel of John), the first posts will be about that gospel. Here is something on John 15:

In John 15 we find a creative and significant paradoxical tension within the text between the main verb, “abide” (menein; eleven times), on the one hand, and the verbs “do” (poiein; v. 4) and especially “go” (hypag?te; v. 16), on the other. Semantically, the former has to do with resting, staying put; it connotes, or could connote, spiritual ease or even apathy. The latter, however, has to do with moving, acting. This tension is expressed in, but not fully resolved by, the image of an abiding, fruit-bearing branch, for although healthy vines and branches naturally grow and bear fruit, they do not naturally move from place to place. The disciples, however, have been appointed to go. They constitute, in other words, a mobile vine, a community of centripetally oriented love that shares that love centrifugally as they move out from themselves, all the while abiding in the vine, the very source of their life and love, the source of their power to do.

Here is perhaps the most powerful symbiosis of spirituality and mission in the New Testament. This chapter, rooted in John 13-14 and further developed in John 16-17, is the quintessence of a participatory missiology. But it is even more than that; it expresses a profound theology of missional perichoresis and theosis (mutual indwelling of Christ and the disciples leading to transformation into Christlike Godlikeness). Fruit bearing is participating in the missio Dei embodied in Christ—to bring God’s light, love, and life to the world—and truly is the way we become more fully what we already are: Jesus’ disciples (15:8).

Becoming the Gospel: Quotations Etc for My Clergy Presentation

September 8th, 2015

Sharing in God’s Life, Becoming the Gospel: Paul and the Missional Church
Michael J. Gorman

A few thoughts to get us started . . .

  • “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church. . . .” Emil Brunner
  •  “The first-order business of the church is to be a people who under the guidance of the Spirit point the world to Jesus Christ. . . . I take it to be crucial that Christians must live in a manner that their lives are unintelligible if the God we worship in Jesus Christ does not exist. . . . I believe we are living in a time when Christendom is actually coming to an end. That is an extraordinary transition whose significance for Christian and non-Christian has yet to be understood. But in the very least, it means the church is finally free to be a politic [a distinctive public culture].” Stanley Hauerwas
  •  “A primary role of Scripture in the church is to bring about the conversion of the imagination.” Richard Hays
  •  “How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic [means of interpretation] of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Lesslie Newbigin
  •  “The church is a community of Christ’s crucified presence and of Christ’s risen presence.” Ross Hastings
  •   Paul “saw the church as a microcosmos, a little world, not simply as an alternative to the present one, an escapist’s country cottage for those tired of city life, but as the prototype of what was to come . . . [when] the whole earth [would be filled] with his knowledge and glory, with his justice, peace and joy. Paul sees each ekkl?sia as a sign of that future reality.” (N.T. Wright)

And a few more:
• “He became what we are so that we could become what He is.” Irenaeus and Athanasius
• “Like an iron sword plunged into the fire that becomes hot and luminous while remaining iron and not becoming fire, so are we when plunged into Christ the image of God.” Maximus the Confessor
• “What Christ is to us — righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, redemption — Christians must now be to the world.” (Morna Hooker)
• The church’s mission is not to be palatable but to be credible: speaking clearly, acting faithfully. (MJG)
• Paul wanted the church not merely to believe the gospel but to become the gospel and thereby to advance the gospel, thus participating in the very life and mission of God (the missio Dei). (MJG)
• The church is to be a living exegesis of the gospel. (MJG)

Paul on the cross
• The cross is God’s benign invasion into the world to set it right, which includes your forgiveness and eternal life, but much more.
• The cross is not only a Christophany; it is also a theophany, revealing the power and wisdom of God.
• The cross challenges every status quo: religious, political, social, etc.
• The cross has two beams, vertical and horizontal, meaning reconciliation with God and with one another.
• The cross is not only the source, but also the shape, of our salvation. Salvation means renewal by participation in Christ.
• The mission of the church is simply, in the power of the resurrection and the Spirit, to live the story of the cross in its internal and its public life. This is what it means to be godly, Christlike, Spirit-filled—to take part in God’s life and story.
• Ironically and paradoxically, the cross and cross-shaped ministry bring about resurrection; death leads to life.

Participation in the fellowship of the cross

5Let the same mind be in you [plural] that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Although [x] not [y] but [z]
Although [status] not [selfish exploitation] but [z] missional self-giving

NRSV, alt. (MJG)
5Let this mind [see 2:1-4] be in you [plural], which means in Christ Jesus, 6who, because he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Because [x] not [y] but [z]
Because [status] not [selfish exploitation] but [z] missional self-giving

A Friend’s Summary of My Work for the Academy and the Church

May 30th, 2015

Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania (the best bookstore anywhere) has written a very insightful, if overly praise-full, summary of my work, highlighting most of my published books. I learned something about myself, and others might too!

Some Thoughts for Christians on (U.S.) Memorial Day Weekend 2015

May 22nd, 2015

1. A modest claim: Whatever we think about the rightness or wrongness of war in general, or of specific wars, and whatever we think about the valor of dying in war, let us not make war holy. War is hell; it is full of sin. People (even war heroes) do horrible things in war and have horrible things done to them. People who have died in war, whether combatants or civilians, whether enemies or friends, should not have had to die. They had a future. They had dreams. They may have been at war against their own better judgment. They had spouses and children and parents who wanted to keep loving them and whom the dead would have wanted to keep loving.

2. A modest suggestion: In my book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I suggest that the church in the U.S. has two liturgical seasons, (1) the Holy Season, from Advent to Easter or Pentecost, and (2) the Civil Season, the time of civil religion, which runs from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. This is not a good situation. Since this coming Sunday is both Memorial Day in the U.S. and Pentecost in the church around the world, what a church in the U.S. chooses to do and emphasize this Sunday (and between now and Thanksgiving) says a lot about that church. What are its priorities? Is it seeking to be a Spirit-filled church, a Pentecost church, a part of the global church with people from every tribe and ethnicity and nation? Or an American church?—which is actually an oxymoron.

3. A modest proposal: Since U.S. churches seem inevitably to want to remember those who died for a noble cause, can we—especially we Protestants—not pay a little more attention to those who have died for the most noble cause of all, the gospel? Why are we so ignorant of the great Christian saints, the martyrs, who have died down through the ages and are still dying today in various parts of the world? Are “we” (here I mean most Protestants and many post-Protestants) afraid of being too “Catholic”? Perhaps we should rather be afraid of being too “American” and not catholic enough. If American Christians can take American memorializing so seriously, can we not take Christian memorializing even more seriously? Can we not start naming and learning about the church’s martyrs on a regular basis?

Whatever we do or remember this weekend, let us recall that All Saints Day is less than six months away. And in the meantime, there are plenty of days and plenty of saints associated with those days for us to do a lot of remembering.

Interview with Eerdmans about “Becoming the Gospel”

May 13th, 2015

Eerdmans has posted an interview with me about my new book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission.

Cover-Becoming the Gospel

“Becoming the Gospel” is Out

April 29th, 2015

For all who may be interested, you may now order my newest book, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, from Eerdmans (the publisher), Amazon, or your good theological bookstore, such as Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, PA.

The “thesis” of the book is pretty straightforward:

The central claim, found in the title — Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission — is that already in the first Christian century the apostle Paul wanted the communities he addressed not merely to believe the gospel but to become the gospel and thereby to advance the gospel.

I will let Chris Tilling of St. Mellitus College and author of Paul’s Divine Christology say something about the book:

Combining exegesis of Paul’s letters with hermeneutics and missiology, Gorman throws new light on old debates such as those involving the language of God’s righteousness and various participatory themes. . . . Gorman writes in ways that resonate with the missional concerns of the gospel itself.

Cover-Becoming the Gospel

When asked who should read this book, I have responded “Everyone!” :-) Everyone!
First of all pastors, seminary students, and lay leaders in the churches. This is challenging but readable material. I want to spark conversations in the church. Secondly, biblical scholars, missiologists, theologians, and others who teach in and influence the various fields of study that come together in this book.

Today’s Event

February 15th, 2015

OK–we are definitely on. Be careful on side streets and any places that have not completely melted. Pls arrive by 4 or after 4:30 and don’t park in front of the house or adjacent if possible.

Did Jesus ever Exist?

December 24th, 2014

The latest so-called scholarship arguing against the existence of Jesus has appeared from a University of Sydney graduate student and part-time lecturer. It started on the University web site and was picked up by the Washington Post, at least it’s online edition. (I’ve not yet seen it in the print version.)

I sent a letter to the editor despite the fact that the Post does not print letters responding to online articles. So here is the text of my letter:

Ralph Lataster’s “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up” (Dec. 20) is so full of factual error and sloppy argumentation that it is not worthy of publication by a scholar—or by a newspaper—no matter what one thinks about the issue.

First of all, Lataster misrepresents the debate. Discussions about the existence of Jesus are debates among historians, not disagreements among atheists. Furthermore, even if Christians believe in “the Christ of faith” (though this is a problematic term in many ways) and also affirm the existence of the historical Jesus, that does not disqualify academically trained Christians from rightfully participating in the debate about Jesus’ existence. Many historians who are Christians are able to believe, in part, because they are convinced that historical study supports the existence of Jesus.

Second, Lataster misrepresents the text of the New Testament. There are plenty of passages in the gospels that narrate a teaching, healing, law-abiding, and law-breaking first-century Jewish teacher that do not even begin to fit the description of a “fictional Christ of faith”—though there are certainly texts that do portray Jesus as more than such a teacher. Moreover, in considering Paul’s letters, Lataster ignores Paul’s allusions to Jesus’ teaching, as well as Paul’s reliance on oral tradition like that found in the gospels when he describes Jesus’ Last Supper. Furthermore, Lataster mischaracterizes Paul’s apocalyptic language as indicating belief in a “celestial” rather than a human” Jesus. He also conveniently fails to mention Paul’s statement that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).

Third, Lataster misrepresents the nature of oral tradition and of the sources for our gospels, and either he is ignorant of current debate about each of these or else he fails to mention them. Yet he draws conclusions about the existence of Jesus based on such misrepresentation and ignorance (or suppression) of contemporary gospel scholarship.

The word “atrocious” that he applies to biblical scholarship does indeed characterize certain forms of published work. (Let the reader understand.) Another word comes to mind, too—“insulting”—both to people’s intelligence and, this week, to their spiritual and historical sensibilities.

Michael J. Gorman
Raymond Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology
St. Mary’s Seminary & University
Baltimore, MD