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Deconstructing Jesus: From Modernity to Postmodernity to Faith1

Rollin G. Grams
April, 2011

Director of the Robert C. Cooley Center


for the Study of Early Christianity
Associate Professor of New Testament

These are exciting days in Jesus studies. Much is being written on the historical Jesus,
and significant challenges to old paradigms in New Testament Christology are being
presented. The labours of sensible scholarship are not going to be found on the shelves
of your local large bookshop, since they do not sell as well as whatever claims to expose
conspiracies, reveal secrets, and unsettle orthodoxy. But solid scholarship is doing more
than just exposing the latest hype for what it is: New Testament scholars are still making
interesting contributions through the exegetical task of theology.

A part of what we are seeing in the field involves a new set of assumptions. Modernist
methods of Biblical scholarship, along with its ‘consensuses’ and ‘assured results’, are
happily under scrutiny. But Postmodernity can take several forms. Positively, enquiry
from a position of belief rather than doubt is now seen as inevitable if not even
encouraged. Negatively, a deconstructive Postmodernity—in many ways a
‘MostModernity’—has simply ratcheted up the level of doubt to higher levels of
scepticism and turned from trusting methods of enquiry to playing with methods of
enquiry in order to arrive at alternative constructions of truth.2

This deconstructive version of Postmodernity takes us into a world of scholarship


presented as the exposure of conspiracies, secrets, and scandals. To be sure, challenges
to orthodox teaching about Jesus were also the order of the day in the Modern period.
According to Albert Schweitzer, it began with Herman Reimarus’ posthumously
published work Apology or Defence of the Rational Worshippers of God in 1778.3 For
Reimarus, Jesus was a pious Jew calling people to repentance in preparation for the
Kingdom of God. He became increasingly fanatical, however, and tried to force God's
hand in Jerusalem, only to die on the cross believing that God had forsaken Him. His
disciples, who had forgotten how to work and so wished to keep a good thing going,
decided to steal Jesus’ body and claim that He had risen from the dead and would return
to establish His Kingdom. Here is a major conspiracy on the part of Jesus’ disciples, but,
thanks to Reimarus, secrets are now revealed, and they are scandalous for Christian faith.

1
This article is an expanded version of ‘Deconstructing Jesus: Separating Fact from Fiction,’ in Contact
(December, 2009). Online:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/23980972/Gordon-Conwell-Contact-Magazine-Winter-09.
2
Cf. Rollin G. Grams, Rival Versions of Theological Enquiry (Prague: International Baptist Theological
Seminary, 2005).
3
Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to
Wrede (Engl. ed., A. & C. Black, Ltd., 1910).

1
Deconstructive Postmodernism still touts the same alternatives to the resurrection that
Modernity presented, whether a fabricated story or the belief that Jesus avoided death and
lived out his days. There are some differences, however. Authors, publishers, and
bookshops have learned how to make money by peddling conspiracy, secrecy, and
scandal. Take, for example, the annual publications of Bart Ehrman: Lost Christianities:
The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005);
Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford Univ. Press,
2005); The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: a New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed (Oxford
Univ. Press, 2006); Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and
Why (HarperOne, 2007); God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most
Important Question—Why We Suffer (HarperOne, 2008); Jesus Interrupted: Revealing
the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
(HarperOne, 2009).

These works are not, moreover, aimed at Christians trained for ministry at an
academically solid seminary, who have really engaged the issues of textual criticism,
Gnostic writings, the historical development of orthodox Christianity, and critical issues
of Scripture since their own seminary days. Ehrman rather seems intent on disturbing his
undergraduate students, deconstructing their faith, and leaving them with nothing. The
Athenian elders had Socrates drink hemlock for this, but in our day disturbing the youth
is a lucrative and laudable exercise for some university professors.

Consider just how one deconstructs Jesus in a Postmodern age.4

Plurality

First, argue that, because orthodox Christianity was from the start only one among
several perspectives on Jesus, it is not a more credible perspective. Or, more boldly,
argue that if a document is independent from the canonical Gospels, it must be earlier.
Neither of these ways of reasoning is in the least logical. It is, of course, quite true that
from the very beginning there were any number of responses to Jesus. One way to read
Mark’s Gospel is to list the variety of responses to Jesus during His public ministry. The
idea that the first century initially had a single, solid, orthodox view of Jesus and only
afterwards developed views reaching further and further away in heretical directions is
clearly false. Views of Jesus in the first century were not like a tree trunk that only
pushed out branches at a later date. Yet the correct picture of how things developed will
not be the opposite--an upside down tree, with branches in all directions at the beginning
and then a particular branch emerging from the mix that would be called ‘orthodoxy’.
Rather, there was a ‘normative Christianity’ from the beginning that stood out among the
other views of Jesus.5 Five lines of argument are worth considering.

4
In addition to several works cited elsewhere in this article, see also Ben Witherington, III, What Have
They done With Jesus? Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why we Can Trust the Bible (New
York: HarperOne, 2006); Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s
Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ (Thomas Nelson, 2007).
5
Arland J. Hultgren, The Rise of Normative Christianity (Wipf & Stock Pub., 2004).

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(1) When Tertullian (Prescriptions Against Heresies) gave thought to heresies in the late
second century, he was able to say that churches known to have apostolic foundations
were not heretical. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus at the end of the 2nd century, was easily
able to establish the history of bishops for the church he oversaw (Eusebius, H.E. 5.24.2-
7).

(2) Our canonical Gospels present the testimony of eyewitnesses, as Richard Bauckham
ably argues.6

(3) Over against the view that Jesus did not see himself as the coming Messiah, N. T.
Wright and others have convincingly argued that Jesus intended to bring about the
restoration of Israel from exile in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.7 The narrative
of Israel and its Old Testament grounding only affirms orthodox Christology over against
the Gnostic misdirections of the second century.

(4) When we look carefully at the means of preserving the tradition about Jesus, we see
that Form Criticism’s assumption of a long period of communities developing the
tradition for a variety of purposes apart from eyewitnesses and Redaction Criticism’s
assumption that these free floating stories about or sayings of Jesus (pericopae) were
eventually edited by late first century authors creates a false perspective on how closely
tied the Gospels were to the events of Jesus’ life. As James Dunn has argued, the
tradition was preserved with due care for accuracy.8 Consider the important role of
teachers in the community, the likely memorization of sayings of Jesus, the role of
eyewitnesses in the community, the community’s valuing accurate memories of Jesus, the
importance of apostolic custodians of the Church’s tradition, the assumption by New
Testament authors of epistles that the churches knew traditions about Jesus,9 the Gospels’
historical interests in their choice of the genre of biography,10 the tendency to check
prophecy with tradition, a concern over ‘false prophets’, and the control that a
community exercised on the right telling of a story by any story teller. Dunn concludes
his argument for the historical veracity of the Gospels’ tradition with the following
statement:11

… the differences introduced by the Evangelists, whether as oral diversity or


literary editing, are consistently in the character of abbreviation and omission,

6
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 2006).
7
N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2 (Augsburg
Fortress, 1997).
8
James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
2003).
9
Paul, Peter, and James alike do not quote but allude to Jesus’ life and sayings. See the list of allusions to
Jesus’ teaching in Paul, Peter, and James in Dunn, Jesus Remembered, footnotes 48 and 49 on p. 182.
10
For a thorough discussion of ancient biography and the Gospels’ genre, emphasising historicity, see the
introduction in Craig Keener, The Gospel of John—A Commentary, Vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson,
2004).
11
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 224.

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clarification and explanation, elaboration and extension of motif. The
developments often reflect the deeper faith and insight of Easter; that is true. But
they do not appear to constitute any radical change in the substance or character
or thrust of the story told.

(5) A rather common deconstructionist view in New Testament Christology has been to
claim that the Church came, over time and through its encounter with the Graeco-Roman
world, to ascribe deity to Jesus. This view is inherent in the title of Maurice Casey’s
book, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. It is decidedly a Modernist deconstruction
of Jesus, with particularly influential arguments from Wilhelm Bousset at the beginning
of the 20th century, and John Hick and James Dunn towards the end of the century.12
Modernity’s commitment to evolutionary models in science and history inevitably gave
credence to such a notion for early Christian doctrine. The notion that the early Church
nurtured an originally low Christology into a fully grown, high Christology by the end of
the first century (Gospel of John and Hebrews in particular) seemed patently obvious to
the Modernist’s way of thinking.

Strong arguments to the contrary are now available, and they have broken new, exciting
ground in the field of New Testament Christology. Larry Hurtado notes that the earliest
Church’s devotion to and worship of Jesus testifies to its high Christology.13 Richard
Bauckham argues that the earliest Church held a high Christology through its
interpretation of the Old Testament.14 Gordon Fee argues exegetically that the New
Testament’s earliest author, Paul, consistently held to a high Christology that was already
in the Church tradition.15 And Sean McDonough of Gordon-Conwell argues that the
often neglected miracles of Jesus in scholarly presentations of the early Church’s
Christology must be considered: they would have given rise to an early, high
Christology.16

‘New’ Evidence

A second way to deconstruct Jesus is to rearrange the evidence from primary sources.
One might, for example, argue that the Gospel of Thomas and the Q sayings of Jesus

12
Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament
Christology (Ingram Publ, 2001). Wilhelm Bousset, Kurios Christos: A History of the Belief in Christ from
the Beginnings of Christianity to Irenaeus (trans. J. E. Steely; Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1970). John Hick,
The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM Press, 1977); James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A
New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1980, 1989).
13
Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 2005.
14
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New
Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).
15
Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study: An Exegetical-Theological Study
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007).
16
Sean McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine, Oxford University Press,
forthcoming December 2009.

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predate our canonical Gospels,17 offer a different Jesus from the (orthodox) Church’s
convictions, and should be preferred. This line of argument was used by the infamous
‘Jesus Seminar,’ which was a last ditch attempt to use Modernist methodologies to
deconstruct the Jesus of faith. The technique requires massive doses of doubt to
eliminate any saying or act of Jesus until it passes supposedly scientific criteria of
authenticity (yet laden with assumptions) to discover only a few historical events. Faith
is sent out of the room in the laboratory of pure reason. The method itself—proposed in
philosophy by Rene Descartes in the 17th century—is the very essence of Modernity:
doubt everything until one finds something that cannot be doubted, and then see what can
be built back up from the little certainty one has discovered. Such a method leant itself
better to scientific enquiry than the study of philosophy, history, literature, and theology;
and, when applied outside the sciences, it became the means by which scholars regularly
hid their assumptions under the guise of academic research.

However, the preference for the Gospel of Thomas over our canonical Gospels and the
view that Q was an early, single document with its own community’s theological
perspective at odds with orthodox Christianity were but the beginning of a Postmodernist
inclination among certain scholars equally eager to deconstruct Jesus. The Postmodernist
angle is far simpler than painstakingly applying criteria of authenticity to each pericope.
One essential feature of Postmodernist deconstruction is to see truth as communally (or
locally) constructed. So, why not approach scholarship on Jesus from the perspective of
local constructions of Christology in the early Church, with no construction allowed to
claim ‘truth’? Instead, each construction stands on its own, and the function of
Christology within the local community becomes the focus. That is, instead of asking, ‘Is
it true?’ one now asks, ‘So, how is this conviction working out for you?’ The way this
approach has worked in Postmodern deconstructionism for Christology has been to claim
that the Gospel of Thomas and Q are our earliest documents about Jesus, dating from the
50’s, and that they show no interest in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Such an argument
still uses Modernist methods of studying ancient texts and history, even if in service of a
Postmodernist perspective about truth being a local construction that is not objective but
subjective, concerned with how it functions for a community.

However, the same scholars also appear to move methodologically to a Postmodern


approach when they use indisputably later, second century Gnostic works to offer
alternatives to orthodox Christology based on the first century canonical Gospels. This is
possible because a Postmodern approach is ‘playful’, like building sandcastles along the
shore for a limited period of time. The scholar employing such a method constructs a
plausible case for an argument—or at least one that will convince some people for the
time being—to see how such a construction of evidence will function in a certain
community, whether a scholarly community or faith community. The construction of
meaning—or sandcastles--will not last: it does not have value as a lasting interpretation
but as a production. As Roland Barthes averred, ‘The Text must not be thought of as a
defined object [which is what the ‘Work’ might be considered].... The Text is a

17
Robert Funk (Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
dates the Gospel of Thomas to the 50’s.

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methodological field,’18 and, ‘The Text is experienced only as an activity, a production.
It follows that the Text cannot stop.’19 That is, readers continue the process of ongoing
production such that the Text is a combination of the Work and the readers through play,
task, production, and activity. Readers are not simply interpreters but also producers.

Any ‘disturbance’ of orthodoxy is valuable on such a view, not because one has
necessarily presented a defensible alternative but because any deconstruction can lead to
something new. One prime example of this is the writing of fictional history that will
intentionally disturb orthodoxy, such as in Dan Brown’s writings. Fictional history
introduces playfulness into historical methodology. Playfulness is justified
philosophically: since there is no truth, scholarship benefits from a playfulness that
increases the number of alternative perspectives. This is not unlike looking for hidden
messages in works of art, especially messages that undermine established views. New
Testament scholars such as Ehrman wish to distance themselves from fictional authors
such as Dan Brown because they have better command of the materials, but
philosophically they have the same conviction: alternative constructions of truth by a
scholar presenting the unorthodox views of certain local communities will function well
for the time being to unsettle orthodox constructions that have held sway for too long.

All this requires some discussion of the dating of documents. (Modernist


deconstructionists, such as Helmut Koester, are convinced that this is essential, whereas
Postmodernist deconstructionists will use such arguments only if they are useful in
convincing a certain audience. At other times, they will happily offer a late second
century, Gnostic document as an alternative to a first century document.) Craig Evans
has argued rather convincingly that the Gospel of Thomas20 should be dated after AD 170
over against the view that it predates the canonical Gospels.21 Since it quotes or alludes
to various New Testament works, including the four Gospels, one wishing to date the
work earlier has to postulate an earlier version than the one we have. Evans argues that
its use of these Gospels includes material that is deemed to be later, that is, material
found only in Matthew or only in Luke, or material from John’s Gospel (thought to be the
last written). It also follows Matthew or Luke where there are differences from their
source, Mark—again showing a later rather than earlier date than the canonical Gospels.
Further, the Gospel of Thomas was aware of traditions that are distinctive to Eastern,
Syrian Christianity. Most convincingly, its order can be explained once the work is read
in Syriac (the language in which it was originally written): the pericopae are linked by
Syrian catchwords. Thus its Syrian origin is assured, and one need only note that it is
often dependent on the (Syrian) Diatessaron of Tatian (c. 170 AD) to conclude that it is a
late 2nd century work. Its content can be explained best not as representative of the
historical Jesus but under the influence of late, 2nd century Gnosticism.

18
Roland Barthes, ‘From Work to Text,’, Textual Strategies. Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism,
ed. Josué Harari (Ithaca: Cornell, 1979), pp. 73-81; here p. 74.
19
Barthes, ‘From Work to Text,’ p. 75.
20
The Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi (Egypt), along with other Gnostic works. A
portion of it had been discovered in
21
Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 2006).

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Other works put forward to challenge the canonical Gospels include a Hebrew Gospel of
Matthew, The Dialogue Gospel, The Apocryphon (or Letter) of James, The Secret Gospel
of Mark, a so-called Cross Gospel (part of the Gospel of Peter), the Gospel of Mary, and
the Gospel of Judas. Either these are unquestionably from the second century, or they are
hypothetical works purportedly from the first century but actually part of second century
documents. In addition, material that Matthew and Luke have in common, some 200
verses given the designation ‘Q’, have been treated by some scholars as a single
document. Since Q ranges in agreement between Matthew and Luke from 100% to 8%
of the time, it seems highly unlikely that we can consider it a single document,
representing a particular community (in Galilee, some argue!). Scholars making ‘Q’ a
community-produced document argue that it must be early, since it was used by Matthew
and Luke later in the first century. They then point out that it does not contain the
passion and resurrection of Jesus. It is a ‘sayings source’ and so lacks narratives about
Jesus’ activity. This is perfect for those wishing to produce an alternative Jesus from the
Gospel narratives, but it is not a realistic Jesus. The overall game is to redate works,
make Gnosticism a 1st century phenomenon, and present one’s case as though it entails a
rescue of marginalised works from the power and conspiratorial designs of orthodox
Christianity.

Archaeology

A third way to deconstruct Jesus comes through archaeology. We should expect that
archaeology will continue to provide us with further helpful discoveries to assess events
in the Scriptures, including those in Jesus’ time. There is a lot more digging still to do in
Israel! Yet archaeology’s revelation of ‘secrets from the earth’ can also play into the
deconstructive agenda. Some speculation is relatively innocuous, such as the supposed
discovery of a cave of John the Baptist in Suba in 1999 by Shimon Gibson.22 Other
speculation intends to deconstruct Christian faith, such as the supposed discovery of
Jesus’ ossuary (bone box), with bones still in it. Judaism in the first century practiced a
two stage burial of the dead: an initial burial over the first year until only the bones were
left, and then a second burial of the bones in a stone box. If Jesus’ bone box were to be
discovered, that would be the end of Easter for most of us (not, of course, for those
following Rudolf Bultmann, for whom an historical resurrection was thought to pose
problems for faith in the resurrection!).

Archaeologist James Tabor believes that he has identified the ossuary of Jesus and
several of his family members from a tomb in Talpiot, half-way between Jerusalem and
Bethlehem. He also believes that the so-called ‘James Ossuary’—purportedly the bone
box of Jesus’ brother—originally came from the same family burial tomb.23 Arguments
have been listed on either side over this amazing theory (a trial lags on over the
authenticity of the James Ossuary), but it is best to begin with a look at the inscriptions
oneself, even if one is not trained in reading ancient Hebrew script. This can be done at

22
Shimon Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist: The Stunning Archaeological Discovery that has
Redefined Christian History (NY: Doubleday, 2004).
23
James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of
Christianity (Simon and Schuster, 2007).

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Craig Evans’ website, and both the pictures and his discussion there seem rather
convincing: Jesus’ family—let alone Jesus—was not laid to rest here.24

Political Lenses

A fourth way to deconstruct Jesus is to read politically.25 This is being done in Jesus and
Pauline studies recently: what used to be taken as fairly straight-forward theological
statements is being heard over against the political context of the times. There is no
reason to rule this approach out without careful consideration, but it is rather typical of
the socio-rhetorical interest that Postmodernity has in a community’s construction of
truth.

One way to apply this to early Church history is to suggest that Jesus’ family formed a
dynasty that controlled the Church in the first century. Introduce some scandal,
conspiracy, and secrecy, and one has an exciting and novel interpretation of history. A
more careful examination of the relatives of Jesus can be an interesting study,26 but there
is nothing to suggest, as James Tabor does, that his relatives formed a powerful dynasty
in the Church.27 Tabor and others28 even suggests that Jesus was married to Mary
Magdalene and fathered a son with her! (After all, did not Jews value marriage such that
a thirty year old male like Jesus would also have married, and did not a second century
Gnostic writing, the Gospel of Philip, speak of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene on the
lips?—useful arguments to some!)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the peculiar arguments in recent deconstructions of Jesus are not simply
the rehashing of views met already in Reimarus in the 18th century as the Enlightenment
was coming to a close. They come in new packaging for a consumerist, iconoclastic age,
but also with new arguments. Yet more sanguine analyses of Jesus in the light of ancient
texts and archaeology are providing us with exciting evidence about Jesus the Messiah of
Israel and Lord of all.

24
See http://www.craigaevans.com/tombofjesus.htm, accessed 27 September, 2009. Cf. also Evans’
bibliographical suggestions.
25
Behind contextual studies of Jesus and Paul that suggest a political dimension to Jesus’ parables or
lightly hidden innuendos in Paul to Roman imperialism and the imperial cult lies a much deeper,
philosophical and linguistic argument that goes by the name ‘critical discourse analysis’. As Peter
Stockwell describes it, in CDA ‘the dimensions of communicative experience - such as context, power
relations and background knowledge--are not sidelined as in traditional linguistic rule-systems, but become
part of a holistic integrated study' ('Toward a Critical Cognitive Linguistics?’ p. 2; online:
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~aezps/research/papers/critcog.pdf, accessed 30 September, 2003).
26
Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,
2004).
27
James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty.
28
Cf. e.g., Margaret Starbird, The Women With the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail
(Bear and Company, 1993). Starbird identifies Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and claims that
Jesus, in the line of King David, intentionally married a Benjaminite (conjecture!), in the line of King Saul.
And, of course, this was all kept secret.

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The change in perspectives, from faith-based to Modernist deconstructionist to
Postmodern deconstructionist, may be presented visually through art about Jesus.
Consider, for example, the numerous paintings of Christ through the centuries with a
halo, looking very pious and divine. An example might be Benjamin Haydon’s ‘Christ’s
Entry into Jerusalem,’ where Jesus’ radiance upon the donkey is met with people’s awe
and worship on the road to Jerusalem.

Move next to an artist such as Vasiliy Polenov at the end of the 18th century, in the height
of Modernity. Now Jesus is presented in his historical, cultural context looking like any
ordinary man. A painting of Gethsemane, moreover, is of an olive tree rather than Jesus
at prayer. Similar Russian painters in this period depict human vulnerability, dejection,
and doubt, such as Nicholas Ghe’s ‘Golgotha’ or Ivan Kramskoy’s ‘Christ in the
Wilderness’ and ‘Mocking Christ’. While considered disturbing to many for the lack of
piety, faith, or divinity, there was something still refreshing in such a deconstruction
since it brought out the humanity of Jesus where earlier paintings suffered from
presenting Jesus as so divine that his humanity was obscured. Even so, Ghe’s religious
paintings, for example, derived from unorthodox convictions and function to deconstruct
the Jesus of orthodox faith—a stark contrast to the iconography of Russian Orthodoxy.

Move next to the 1987 photograph of Andres Serrano entitled ‘Piss Christ,’ a picture of a
crucifix floating in Serrano’s own urine. As ‘art’, criteria for evaluation do not include
truth. Postmodern deconstructions of Jesus that present themselves as historical
reinterpretation of ancient texts have the outward appearance of being Modernist,
scientific deconstructions of faith, as with Polenov’s paintings. But they are offered in a
Postmodernist era, where interpreters are also producers and history can be presented
fictionally, playfully, tentatively. Such art is considered valuable because it deconstructs
long-held views rather than because it offers a better interpretation of what is ‘true.’

The difficulty we face today is that most readers of New Testament scholarship still work
from a Modernist perspective that accepts criteria for objective truth that can be explored
through scientific methods. This is a problem because certain scholars now operate from
a Postmodern perspective that does not share the Modernist philosophical assumptions,
methods, and conclusions. What is even more confusing is that such Postmodern
scholarship is frequently presented in Modernist ways, such that readers do not perceive
that the scholar does not even believe in the possibility of a true rendering of early
Christianity even as he or she presents constructions of one sort or another of early
Christianity. These scholars write in order to deconstruct, however, not to construct.

What Postmodernity offers us, however, is a way to insist in the legitimacy of faith in
interpretation. The method of doubt in Modernity that became relativistic scepticism in
Postmodernity has finally reached such extremes that faith may once again be admitted
into the marketplace of ideas. The question that remains is how a faith perspective will
lead to new ways of teaching and writing about Jesus after over two hundred years of
Modernist approaches and thirty or so years of Postmodern deconstructions of Christian
faith. To date, much of Evangelical scholarship proceeds along similar lines as other
scholarship but consistently coming to orthodox conclusions. Something more is at

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work, however, in our day. Somehow ‘faith seeking understanding’ requires a radically
different approach to scholarship than Modernity’s deconstructionist method of
enquiry—doubt—and Postmodernity’s deconstructionist method of enquiry—the playful
production of alternative interpretations. To this interpreter, this will mean not the use of
dogmatic lenses for reading Biblical texts but a Scriptural deconstruction of our world.
On such a view, Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ does not tell us anything about Jesus but tells us
everything about the world that the Christ of Scripture confronts. Similarly,
deconstructionist authors of Modernity and Postmodernity (and both continue in our day)
tell us very little about Jesus, but they show us the world that the Christ of Scripture
confronts in our day.

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