Monday, March 5, 2012

Jesus Through the Centuries

Today I completed a book by Jarslov Pelikan (I love saying that name) entitled, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture.  It is a book that I heard about in seminary in a Church History class (Pelikan was a Church Historian) and a book I actually bought in a used bookstore way back then.  It sat on my shelf all this time.  Plan white, the dust jacket long since lost and forgotten.  I'm glad I pulled it off and read it.

Pelikan basically sets Jesus in the context of each century from the time he walked the earth to now.  He explores not only the theological writings of the time, but the popular writings as well, which in most ways are the more revealing.  There are eighteen cultural images of Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews proclaimed, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).  Yet, historical, theological and cultural interpretations of Jesus depict a Christ that is eclectic and diverse, not homogeneous and static.  For instance, Constantine's Jesus was a conquering king while most first century believers saw him as a Jewish "rabbi," unlike any other.  Jesus the "Cosmic Christ" who compels humanity to question their universe paves the way for Jesus "The Teacher of Common Sense." 

What I find really interesting looking at this book as a whole, and Jesus throughout the centuries, is that the historical Jesus forges a common link for a host of unlikely fellows ranging from the Apostle Peter and Tertullian to David Hume and Thomas Jefferson to Fyodor Dostoevski and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I also find it interesting how scholars, writers and poets in every age so easily create Jesus in their own image.  The tendency to do so, and to do so so easily, should be a caution to us all.

Pelikan writes well.  Read him.  You'll enjoy!