Union University
Union University Dept of Language


Resurrecting Crossan

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

March 2, 2011 - Among the many evidences of the media’s anti-Christian bias is the recurring effort to breathe new life into thoroughly discredited scholarly attempts to question Christianity’s historic credibility. As an example of (yet another!) such effort, consider a recent essay on the life and work of John Dominic Crossan. As almost every sophomore New Testament studies major knows, Crossan gained notoriety for his role in establishing the Jesus Seminar – a body of biblical/historical scholars dedicated to the quest unearthing the “historical Jesus” – the latter being buried, literally and metaphorically.

Crossan remains a subject of interest for the press not merely because of the latter’s hostility to the Gospel but because of the former’s winsomeness. Crossan is pithy. Pith makes headlines. Thus, CNN’s most recent piece on Crossan features a headline which speaks volumes: “John Dominic Crossan’s ‘blasphemous’ portrait of Jesus”. That “blasphemous” is in scare quotes is a nod to the intelligentsia. (“We, the enlightened writers at CNN, recognize what all thinking people do – namely, that Crossan’s portrait of Jesus is not, in fact, blasphemous.”) Ironically, failure to use the scare quotes in this case would be blasphemy of another kind.

What makes these periodic panegyrics so bothersome is the nearly self-evident inconsistency of what Crossan professes. On the one hand, Crossan celebrates the nonviolent example of Jesus’s life (comparing it in this particular article to the Chinese dissident who peacefully faced the tanks in Tiananmen Square). Yet, on the other hand, the “historical Jesus” is dead – having never been raised bodily from the dead. Thus, Christianity amounts to the religion of Woodstock – a vague message of peace and love for humankind.

Crossan fails to grasp with the writer of Ecclesiastes made excruciatingly clear. If there’s no hope of resurrection (and the accompanying vindication), then it’s all meaningless. The life of the now dead “historical Jesus” is just as pointless as the life of Hitler. Without the resurrection, everything comes to nothing; everything is absurd. Hence, it is absolutely ludicrous for those who deny the resurrection to praise one form of life over another. The nonviolent life of Jesus Christ is attractive only on the assumption that the torturous death he suffered at the hands of Jewish enemies and Roman oppressors has been vindicated by God’s raising him from the dead. Otherwise, Jesus’s life and death have no more meaning in the cosmic sweep of purposeless existence than the life and death of a high school shooter.

Of course, Crossan can’t help but know this – at least tacitly. And it is precisely the fact that he makes his living on this stolen capital that makes his meddling with historic, Christian orthodoxy so pernicious. Sadly, the media that loves him lacks the few ounces of logical sense required to expose him for the charlatan that he is. Either (deep down inside) he really believes in (or at least hopes for) the vindication of the resurrection, in which case his admiration for Jesus’s peaceful life makes perfectly good sense, or he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, he should quit pontificating about nobility of Jesus’s extraordinary peasant pacifism and breathe in the rationally fresh, clean air of nihilism. For if Jesus Christ is not raised from the dead, his life was as much of waste as everyone else’s, no matter how one lives.