I am finally getting around to reading Mark Allan Powell’s second
edition of his Jesus as A Figure in History (WJK, 2013). I was intrigued by the statement he makes at the close of the introduction about his personal thoughts on the matter of the historical Jesus and the nature of the canonical gospels.
The story [told of Jesus in the canonical gospels] is grounded in history, but, for me, the authenticity (or ‘truth’) of the story does not ultimately depend on the historicity of every aspect or detail. If one asks how much of the story–or which aspects of the story–must be historically accurate (or even historically verifiable) for the story to remain trustworthy and true,…I have no good answer. That would be a theological question or even a spiritual question; it is something that I think about from time to time, but I have never been able to answer. I am sure that there is a line somewhere, a point at which if I became convinced the story lacked historical viability I would have to regard it as a falsehood, as a story to be rejected — or, at least, as a tale to be valued only for its charm, values, and symbolism. I am not certain where that line might be, but, in my most honest pursuit of the historical Jesus thus far, I can say that I have never come close to crossing it. (9)
I think it is important, as Powell has shown, to be honest in this way with our students. Honest about what we value, honest about the historical challenges posed by the gospels, and honest about our searching, trusting, and hopeful faith in Jesus Christ. A good education is not a theological pat on the back per se. Sometimes it can be (both unintentionally and intentionally). But it does no good for the student if it is only that. A good education must also stretch and sometimes even break, because we all know that this is how we grow as humans.