A Historian Looks at Jesus

A friend of mine in Fort Worth, Texas, heard a Catholic historian speak at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1986.

My friend was so impressed that he acquired an unedited manuscript of the speech and sent it to me. The speech, “A Historian Looks at Jesus,” by Paul Johnson, is one of the most compelling arguments I’ve ever read for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. I have quoted from this speech extensively and have passed it on to friends-both believers and nonbelievers. Each one, after reading the speech, has felt compelled to admit that the evidence of history sides with the Bible.

This speech will probably never make it into the New York Times or onto Bill Mahers’ television program. But I believe it is the sort of material that needs to be shared—because it asks us to look at the Scriptures as a dependable historical record, and to stake our beliefs not on blind faith, but on the logical evidence of history. This is why we have chosen this speech to pass on to you. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will pass it on to a friend.

Charles W Colson

Christianity, like the Judaism from which it sprang, is a historical religion, or it is nothing. It does not deal in myths and metaphors and symbols, or in states of being and cycles. It deals in facts. It presupposes a linear flight in time, through a real universe of concrete events. It sees humanity as marching inexorably from an irrecoverable past into an unprecedented future. The march is not haphazard. It proceeds according to a divine plan, in part revealed to us. Christians believe that certain specific, historical events occurred, and that, in time, certain other specific historical events will occur, bringing humanity’s sojourn in this world to a climax. Then, to use Shakespeare’s phrase, “time must have a stop. “There the Christian’s perception of the timeless world of eternity—the nonhistorical afterlife—is much less clear. But the Christian notion of historical time is very definite, and central to the faith.

Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, at a particular time and in a specific place. He was God and man. He was crucified for our sins, but rose again the third day. The incarnation and the resurrection are not metaphors but actual, historical events. A man or woman cannot reject their historicity and remain a Christian. To accept the message of Christ, the teaching, the ethics, the example, the human perfection of Christ, is not enough. It is necessary to accept the Godhead as well as the manhood, to believe that the incarnation and the resurrection actually occurred. Without them, Christianity is nothing; it becomes a mere fantasy, a delusion.

That being so, there must inevitably be a certain tension between the study of history and Christian theology, and that tension must be particularly acute, it would seem, in the heart and mind and soul of a Christian historian, or a historian who is a Christian. Do the demands of the craft, the science of history, take precedence over the requirements of the faith? Is it possible for a Christian historian to explore the truth of Christianity, to examine its specific historical claims, with the requisite degree of detachment?

In the years just before and just after the First World War it was common among historians, particularly German ones, to assert that Christian faith and true historical scholarship were incompatible, and that the skeptical and critical methods the historian must employ were inevitably destructive of the unqualified assent the Christian must make to the central claims of his religion.

It is a fact that historical scholarship, in its broadest sense, is liable to be far more destructive of religious claims than advances in the physical sciences. The conflict between exact knowledge and religious faith is epitomized and dramatic in the case of Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species. It was made the occasion of a celebrated debate in 1860, at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford, when the local bishop, Samuel Wilberforce, met the Darwinist Professor T. H. Huxley in frontal conflict. The issue was reduced to a ludicrous level by Benjamin Disraei, who put it to the electoral public, “Is man an ape or an angel? Now I am on the side of the angels!” But as Darwin always tried to point Out in the din of argument, there was no necessary incompatibility between the truth of his theory and the truth of Christianity. He died a believer. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The much more serious threat to religion in the nineteenth century came from the historical reconstruction of remote antiquity made possible by the findings of geologists and archaeologists. This was far more erosive of faith, particularly among clergymen, than anything Darwin discovered, because it destroyed beyond serious argument the traditional or fundamentalist chronology of the Old Testament. It was the fossil, rather than evolution, that undermined confidence in the Bible as the divinely inspired source of truth—to the point that one theologian, in desperation, was driven to assert that fossils were the work not of time but of God, who had put them there for his own mysterious purposes!

The work of demolition of the prehistorians appeared to be reinforced by ever more critical examination of the biblical texts, both of the Old and New Testaments, which gave them later and later datings, removing them further and further from the events they purported to describe, and presented them not as the work of eyewitnesses and recorders of fact, but of ecclesiastical ideologues, rewriting the past for their own dogmatic purposes.

Against this background many Christian historians lost their nerve and their judgment. A historian, above all people, ought to take a long view, to exercise the patience of one who deals not in daily headlines and mere years, but in centuries. But the Christian historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often, alas, took a short view. An interesting case was that of William Stubbs, an excellent historian who was really the founder of the scientific study of medieval history at Oxford. But Stubbs was also the bishop of that city, and felt it his duty to limit lines of historical inquiry in the interests of religious orthodoxy.

Victorian society was convulsed by Ernest Renan’s brilliant and imaginative reconstruction of Jesus’ life, La Vie de Jesus, published in 1863.Stubbs boasted in a public lecture of his first meeting with the popular historian, John Richard Green. “I knew by description,” he wrote, “the sort of man I was to meet; I recognized rum as he got into the (railroad) carriage, holding in his hand a volume of Renan. I said to myself, ‘If I can hinder he shall not read that book.’ We sat opposite and fell immediately into conversation . . . He came to me (at my house) afterwards, and that volume of Renan found its way into my waste-paper basket.”

This is really a pretty disgraceful story. Stubbs had never properly examined Renan’s book and condemned it unread; moreover, he persuaded another historian to do likewise-one historian, as it were, corrupting another. And it was all so unnecessary, if one takes the long view! No one now takes Renan’s book seriously, or indeed reads it at all except as a historical curiosity-as much a part of the Victorian religious scene as, say, Moody and Sankey, or Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. For the study of history moves on, remorselessly, like time itself. Today’s sensation becomes tomorrow’s irrelevance. The best seller of one decade becomes the embarrassment of another. The revolutionary theory which convulses the academic world gets cut down in the next age to an ironic footnote.

A Christian historian must have confidence not merely in his Christian faith but in the process of history itself. One thing we have learned, or ought to have learned, in two thousand years of Christianity, is that the emergence of Christian truth is not a finite, but an indefinite and continuous process. Revelation is not static but dynamic. And that is exactly how history operates, too. No one age knows the whole historical truth. Indeed, in any one age the history we accept will be incomplete, misleading, even in some respects actually false. We have to take the long view that the unfolding of historical truth is progressive, never ending, and that it will terminate only with humanity itself. For a Christian to seek to interfere with the unfolding of historical truth is as foolish as for rum to try to stop the process of revelation.

When we discussed this point at school, my history master, a wise and learned Jesuit, used to remind me of Jesus’ saying recorded by the evangelist John, chapter14:6,”I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

It was Jesus Himself who identified His work and revelation with truth; and Christianity, properly considered, ought to be seen as coextensive with truth. There is no inherent conflict between truth and faith: They are one. Hence Christianity, by identifying truth with faith, must teach—and in its enlightened form does teach—that any interference with the truth is immoral. A Christian with faith has nothing to fear from the facts. A Christian historian who draws the line limiting the field of inquiry at any point whatever is, indeed, admitting the limits of his faith. He is also repudiating the nature of his religion in its progressive revelation of truth. So the Christian, according to my understanding, should not feel himself inhibited in the smallest degree from following the line of his inquiries—the line of truth—whithersoever it may lead. Indeed, I would say he is positively bound to follow it. He should, in fact, be freer than the non-Christian, who tends to be precommitted by his own rejection of Christian truth.

If I can interpose a personal note, I found I had to think all these things out for myself when I first embarked on my History of Christianity. I am a Christian, and my faith is the most precious thing I possess. But my faith, like anyone else’s, I think, is vulnerable, brittle, fragile. When I started work on that book, I feared to damage my faith. But I drew courage from my belief that, in the long term, Christian truth and historical truth must coincide, and in the event my faith emerged from writing the History of Christianity not damaged but strengthened and reinforced.

Such a history is marked by the folly and wickedness of leading Christians on almost every page, but I came to realize, in studying the account, that men have done evil not because of their Christianity but despite it—that Christianity has been not the source of, but the supreme(often the sole) restraining factor on, mankind’s capacity for wrongdoing. The record of the human race with Christianity is daunting enough. But without its restraints, how much more horrific the history of these last two thousand years must have been!

I am often reminded, in considering the restraints of the Christian faith, of a famous story concerning the novelist Evelyn Waugh. That superbly gifted but curmudgeonly and extremely malevolent writer sometimes gave the impression that he positively enjoyed inflicting pain by the sharp and wounding things he said to people, even without provocation. He was once asked a hard question by a brave woman. “Mr. Waugh,” she said, “how can you behave as you do, and still remain a Christian?” Waugh replied to her, with grim sincerity, “Madam, I maybe as bad as you say, but believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being.”

It is now a solid part of my belief, both as a Christian and a historian, that true religion, by which I mean religion based upon Judeo-Christian revelation, is the essential mitigating factor in human depravity. Earlier this year I completed work on the book I designed as a companion volume to my History of Christianity, which I have called A History of the Jews. Of course this has a much longer time span, nearly four thousand years—about three-quarters of the period during which mankind has had any real claim to be called civilized.

I approached this book in exactly the same spirit in which I began writing about Christianity: I intended to follow truth wherever it led. This experience also confirmed my faith, but in a rather different manner. The story of the Jews, over nearly four millennia, is profoundly tragic, and often horrifying: Quite how horrifying can only be appreciated fully by one who is actually familiar with the whole history. The faith of the Jews, and their destiny—their predicament—are obviously connected. It is therefore easy to conclude that Jewish faith is the source and cause of their misfortunes. And in all ages, many Jews—perhaps most—have at times felt their faith to be a burden, to be carried through life with many groans and sighs—sometimes an almost unbearable burden.

But to conclude from this that their religion has been, for the Jews, a kind of curse is a very superficial viewpoint which any historian of the Jews quickly learned to discard. For their history, as I discovered, shows beyond any doubt that the faith of the Jews, and their practice of it, has been the source of profound happiness for many generations in the midst of endless oppressions and sufferings; it has been the dynamic, too, of the remarkable achievements of this small people, so disproportion [sic] to their numbers. Without their faith, the Jews would never have existed. And had they abandoned their faith, they would soon have lost their identity and merged without further trace into the background of the Middle East, long before they had the opportunity to figure on the world scene.

The study both of Christianity and of Judaism illustrates the thesis that, in reconciling faith and truth, it is necessary to take the long view: The critical study of the Bible goes back at least to the time of Marcion in the second century A.D., who sought to differentiate between the more acceptable and less acceptable portions of the New Testament.

The rejection of the Bible as a dependable historical record and the denial that Providence has ever actively intervened in human affairs dates from the time of Spinoza, in the mid-seventeenth century. Spinoza’s writings effectively laid down the principles of modern biblical criticism. For the best part of two hundred fifty years, the general thrust of historical study into the dating, composition, form, and content of both the Old and the New Testaments was all in one direction: to present both as didactic rather than historical documents, dealing with myths rather than events, and, even where the events purportedly described had some foundation in fact, presenting them through the distorting lens of much later fanaticism.

This process reached its culmination in the decade or so before 1914, when it was quite common in academic circles to present the entire Old Testament, except for a few fragments, as a tendentious compilation of priests written in post-Exilic times. The book of Genesis, in particular, was pure myth: Abraham and the other patriarchs had never existed, but were mythic figures representing, if anything, collective tribal personalities. The Gospels were similarly dismissed as late productions written generations after the happenings they claimed to describe; some German scholars seriously advanced the view that Jesus had never existed at all as a man, let alone as God.

In the seventy or so years since that low-water mark in the historicity of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the tide of faith, driven by the force of historical and archaeological scholarship, has been flowing back again. The careful and scientific examination of sites which figures in the history of the ancient Near East and, perhaps even more so, the recovery of ancient texts which has been the consequence of archaeological work, have on balance tended to rehabilitate the Bible as a record of actual events. In fact, the more we discover about the ancient Near East, the more we tend to trust the truthfulness of the men who compiled the Pentateuch. For instance, the patriarchs have reemerged as actual historical figures.

The process began in the 1920s, when Sir Leonard Woolley discovered Ur itself, whence Abraham came, found the great ziggurat which plainly inspired the story of the Tower of Babel, and discovered evidence that rescued the flood story from the realm of pure myth. Thanks to the work of W. F. Albright and others, it gradually became possible to anchor the patriarchal narratives in the Middle Bronze Age and to give approximate datings to many of the events described in Genesis. Those who continued to deny the historicity of the Pentateuch were forced back onto the defensive and obliged to insist, with logical absurdity, on higher, or rather totally different, standards of proof for Old Testament assertions as opposed to those in purely secular records—the academic equivalent of Christian fundamentalism.

Still more strikingly, the French excavations at the ancient palace of Marl and the American excavations of ancient Nuzi produced vast quantities of cuneiform tablets-over 20,000 dating from the fifteenth century B.C. in Nuzu alone which illuminate the social and legal background to the patriarchal narratives. Many of the events they described, which once baffled commentators and strengthened the view that these tales were pure myth-the proposal, for instance, for the adoption of Eliezer as heir-presumptive to Abraham, the latter’s negotiations with Sarah, the transfer of a birthright from Esau to Jacob, the binding power of a deathbed blessing and his position of property, Rachel’s theft of her father’s household gods, Jacob’s contractual relations with Laban—all of these turn out to be common legal practice as illustrated repeatedly by the recovered records of these ancient cities.

Again, the process whereby the Hebrews first settled in ancient Palestine, sojourned in Egypt, and then conquered Canaan has been brought bit by bit over the past half century into the lighted circle which is now illuminated, if still only dimly, by archaeology. Some of the events of the books of Exodus and Joshua, once dismissed by biblical critics as entirely imaginary, have now been confirmed by the work of such scholars as G. E. Wright on ancient Schechem, Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho, J. L. Starkey at Lachish, Yigael Yadin at Hazor, James Pritchard at Gibeon, to mention only five outstanding cases.

As we move into the age of the first Jewish commonwealth, the kingdom of David and Solomon, it becomes possible to correlate Old Testament events with other ancient Near Eastern sources, notably Egyptian, where absolute datings are possible, so that we can, for instance, now assert with complete certainty that Solomon died in the year 925-6 B.C. Miss Kenyon’s brilliant work at Jerusalem and excavations at the so-called “chariot cities” of Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo fill in the background to the great Davidic kingdom. Indeed, it is now possible to see much of the historical writing contained in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as constituting the finest and most dependable history in all the ancient world, on a level with the best work of the Greeks, such as Thucydides.

The recovery of ancient texts, both tablets and papyrus, continues. We are now accustomed to discovering, translating, and interpreting state and private archives in excavated cities of the ancient Near East. The dry sands of Egypt yield written fragments from time to time, both of secular records valuable for cross-reference to biblical texts and of very early versions or copies of sacred writings. The sectarian library we call the Dead Sea Scrolls has so far yielded about six hundred volumes, inducting the entire text and of course by far the earliest text we possess—of the book of Isaiah, which many would agree is the most beautiful book in the entire Bible.

These and other discoveries allow us to fill in the background to the life and mission and beliefs of Jesus Christ in a way which would have astonished poor Renan. The archaeological illumination of the New Testament is proceeding. From 1969 Professor Avigad began excavating the houses or palaces of the priestly aristocratic families which in Jesus’ day controlled the temple. Pilate’s residence has now been identified. About the same time archaeologists recovered the bones of a crucified man near the Old City of Jerusalem, so that it was possible for the first time to discover exactly how the crucifixion of Jesus was carried out—which again makes sense of the New Testament record.

The late nineteenth- early twentieth-century notion that the New Testament was a collection of late and highly imaginative records can no longer be seriously held. No one now doubts that St. Paul’s epistles, the earliest Christian records, are authentic or dates them later than the A.D. 50s. Most scholars now date the earliest gospel, the so-called “Q,” not later than about 50 A.D.; Mark, 65 AD.; Matthew and Luke from the 80s or 90s; John not later than 90-100.Some scholars, notably the late Dr. John Robinson, put them considerably earlier: Mark possibly as early as 45 A.D., only a decade and a half or so from Christ’s passion; Matthew, between 40 and 60; Luke, 55-60; and John possibly as late as 65 A.D. plus, but possibly as early as 40.

I doubt if there is any serious scholar alive now who would deny Jesus’ historical existence. Indeed, He is much better authenticated than many secular figures of antiquity whose existence no one has ever presumed to question.

The earliest fragments of the New Testament go back a surprisingly long way. In the John Rylands library in Manchester, England, there is a papyrus fragment of St. John’s Gospel which contains parts of chapter 18:31-36 on one side and chapter 18:37-38 on the other, evidently part of a very early codex or book of sheets bound together in a volume. The handwriting style is not later than 140 A.D., and could be as early as 110 A.D.. If we consider that Tacitus, for example, survives in only one medieval manuscript, the quantity of early New Testament manuscripts is remarkable. The earliest complete texts in the Codex Vaticanus in Rome and the Codex-Sinaiticus in London date from the first half of the fourth century; but there are altogether about 80 papyrus fragments from the second to the fourth centuries, two hundred seventy uncial manuscripts on vellum dating 300 to 100 AD., and over four thousand upper-and-lower-case “miniscule” manuscripts dating from 1000 A.D. to 1500 A.D.

Moreover, the process of recovering early fragments continues. More are sure to emerge, and there is even the possibility of us discovering an early Christian library on the lines of the Qumran scrolls. What is clear beyond doubt is that whereas in the nineteenth century the tendency of history was to cast doubt of the veracity of Judeo-Christian records and to undermine popular faith in God and His Son as presented in the Bible, in the twentieth century it has moved in quite the opposite direction, and there is no sign of the process coming to an end. It is not now the men of faith, it is the skeptics, who have reason to fear the course of discovery.

However, the historian, whether he be a Christian or not, must emphasize that the vindication of the New Testament records as authentic documents describing actual events concerning a real man does not in any way “prove” that He was God too, and that the incarnation and resurrection actually occurred.

All that it establishes is that men and women who lived at and shortly after the time believed these things. Christianity remains, will remain, and I think must remain a matter of faith. The historical process cannot by its very nature establish the truth of Christianity: All it can do, and what it now does, is remove the obstacles to faith and place the Christian notions in a plausible context.

But a historian looking at Christianity and the phenomenon of Jesus is entitled to say something more about the content and significance of Christianity, and this is my final point. He is entitled, I think, to warn against a worldly interpretation of Jesus Christ’s message. When Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, He meant exactly that, and He was warning his followers not to place any political construction on His mission. Anyone who studies the history of the Jewish people in the century or so before Christ, during His lifetime and in the decades which followed His death, will understand why He found it necessary to give such a warning.

The savior figure, or Messiah, was a characteristic Jewish notion, for Judaism is not only a historical, but a historicist, religion radiating portents of impending and dramatic events particularly during periods of crisis and suffering. But though the Messiah was often mentioned, it was never clear what the Messiah was or what exactly he was supposed to do. He might be a savior-kind like Saul, David, or Zedekiah-or even a friendly foreigner like the Persian King Cyrus. He was supposed to come from the line of David. One psalm calls Him the Son of God, though the Hebrew kings had never claimed divinity. He was supposed to live among the people, die, and be exalted, and so bear away their sins—though again the Hebrew monarchs had never claimed to embody their people. Sometimes He was not called a king, but the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord, the Seed of the Woman, the Suffering Servant. But He might be interpreted not as an individual at all but as a symbol for the collective faithful of Israel, the true “remnant” of the just.

Not surprisingly, the Jews became confused about the Messiah. When they thought of this being, they naturally thought of kingship, leadership, political change, revolution, the end of the Roman occupation, the coming of some sort of physical, actual kingdom of which God approved. When Herod the Great heard that the Christ was born, he reacted violently as to a threat to his throne and dynasty. A Jew who heard a man claim to be the Messiah automatically assumed he had to do with a political, if not also a military, program. That was the assumption behind the preparations for action described in the Qumran war-scroll. The Roman authorities, the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the common people, all in varying degrees thought a Messiah would come to overthrow the existing order—a Messiah who preached fundamental change would be talking not in spiritual or metaphysical terms but of actual government and real taxes and everyday justice in the here and now.

Now here were the elements of a great deception and a thundering anticlimax, because Jesus was not that kind of Messiah at all. His mission was the one adumbrated in the famous chapter 53 of Isaiah—He was the “tender plant” the “despised and rejected of men,” the “man of sorrows,” who would be “wounded for our iniquities, bruised for our transgressions” one who was “oppressed and afflicted and yet he opened not his mouth.” This Messiah would be indeed the “suffering servant” who would be “taken from prison and from judgment,” “brought as a lamb to the s1aughter,” would make “His grave with the wicked” and be “numbered with the transgressors.” He was not a danger to any existing order or a particular throne or clerical bureaucracy or ruling class—at least in the immediate and direct sense. He was not a mob 1eader, a demagogue, a populist, a guerilla chieftain. He was talking, it is true, of freedom. But it was not the freedom of Republican Rome, the freedom within a firm framework of orderly government to move, trade, and worship where and as you willed.

Nor was it the kind of freedom the Jewish priesthood demanded—freedom to carry out the demands of the law without external interference. It was rather the internal freedom of the conscience at ease with itself, the spiritual and intellectual and emotional freedom acquired by the conquest of the passions and the self, the “freedom men find in Christ” later preached so eloquently by St. Paul. This new freedom could not be measured in terms of frontiers and forms of government, and it would be won not by military victory, but by the degraded sacrifice of the Messiah Himself. Moreover, it would be offered not merely to Jews but to all mankind in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Hence, in the context of the politics and the apocalyptic religion of His time, the entire movement and mission of Jesus ended in shattering pathos. When it came to the point, He repudiated popular Messianism completely. The authorities sighed with relief and dispatched him without hesitation or compunction. The mob was disappointed. The cry, “Crucify him!” was, perhaps, prompted by disgust and disillusionment as much as by anything else. So the Messiah had not come to liberate the Jews, but to preach self sacrifice and resignation to all! That was not the message the Jews in the street had been expecting or wanted. At the time, only a handful of Jews saw the point.

The victory of Christianity lay in the fact that, in time, the tiny handful swelled into a mighty multitude, and that this steady and eventually overwhelming growth was secured not by the power of the sword or by the efficiency of a political organization, but by virtue of example and by the appeal of words. That wholly unmilitary and unpolitical conquest fills the historian with wonder and awe, for it is unique in antiquity; unique, I think, at any age.

It is what differentiates Christianity in its early, most authentic stages, from any other comparable phenomenon. It suggests, too, a lesson for today which perhaps a historian ought to pass on.

Christianity is not a simple but a complex faith, and I think deliberately so. It was so right from the start, for Jesus Christ was aiming not at a particular group of people—as He certainly would have done had He been a militant and populist—but at all. Hence the general nature, one might almost say the universalism, of His message. What St. Paul made explicit was already implicit in Christ’s teaching. This was a creed in which all types of men and women, not just all nations and races but all casts of mind, could find meaning.

In its very ambiguities lies its strength, for it is open to a variety of interpretations. Men and women have always found, and were intended to find, different signals in His gospel. Jesus was giving mankind, then and for a long future, not one matrix, but a whole series of matrices of conduct—He was thinking of the contemplative, the mystic, the devout; but also of the men and women of action; He spoke to the Marthas as well as the Marys; He had something to say to the centurion and the man of property as well as the poor; He honored the hermit, but He preached also a relentless gospel of work, and He appealed to the achievers.

“Seek and ye shall find!”—it is all therefore all of us whatever be our nature or our aim. No type of human personality goes to the words of Jesus Christ and comes away empty-handed. He is truly all things to all men.

But all these roads which Christ indicated are routes to the next world, not this. What Christianity is not about, what it never has been about, what it never can be about, is politics. That was the mistake made by the Jewish elites and the Jewish mob in Jesus’ own lifetime. It is a mistake many have made since, in all ages, not least in our own. It is, I think, the commonest mistake made by Christian elites today.

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Those seven words go to the heart of the Christian faith. The truth of Christ is not a truth about worldly utopias. It is not a mandate for socialism or capitalism or democracy or kingship or social welfare. When Satan took Jesus to the high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world, and Jesus rejected them and told Satan to be gone, He was rejecting the worldliness not only of wealth and privilege, but the worldliness of systems and ideology, the worldliness of political programs and politicized theology, and of morals preached to attain political ends, however speciously high-minded they may be.

When a historian looks at Jesus Christ and Christianity, his final conclusion must be, I think, that Jesus was not concerned with this world at all, except insofar as it forms a threshold to the next; and that Christianity is quite literally like nothing on earth.


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