Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Richard Hays on "the resurrection of Jesus [as] the epistemological key to understanding the world and therefore the key to all history"

"In a significant essay . . . the theologian Robert Jenson . . . asks a provocative question: 'But what if the church's dogma were a necessary hermeneutical principle of historical reading, because it describes the true ontology of historical being?' Let me paraphrase that: if it is true that Jesus was the incarnation of the Word, the fleshly embodiment of the one through whom all things were made -- and if it is true that he was raised from the dead by the power of God and now reigns over the whole world (whether the world acknowledges it or not) -- then it follows that the historical figure of Jesus cannot be rightly known or understood apart from the epistemological insight articulated precisely in the confession that Jesus is Lord -- Jesus is the kyrios. This is where we ought to begin if we want to know the truth about Jesus.

"This is the insight that [N.T. Wright's] whole historical Jesus project doesn't ever quite take on board. The 'hypothesis' that [Wright] seeks to verify by pulling together the evidence of the Synoptics is not a naked inference from uninterpreted data. Rather, the hypothesis that Tom is testing is already encoded in the New Testament texts themselves as proclamatory stories, and already embedded in [his] own worldview by virtue of his lifelong participation in a community that continues to retell the story. So the hypothesis-verification model can't escape the hermeneutical circle. Nor should it. Precisely because the church's dogma names a truth the world does not or cannot know, it rightly describes the truth about history in a way that secularist history is bound to miss.

"Another way to put this point is to affirm that the resurrection of Jesus is the epistemological key to understanding the world and therefore the key to all history. If so, any history that does not begin from the vantage point of the resurrection of Jesus is perforce distorted because it denies or fails to grasp the true history of the world."

--Richard B. Hays, "Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth," in Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright, ed. Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 60-61


  1. Brad: An aside: anyone who has met someone from Texas catches wind of what Stanley Hauerwas means when he suggested that Texans are, dare I say, "ontologically superior" (caveat: I'm not from Texas, I'm from the East Coast; I've been to New Mexico, but have yet to make it to Texas. But, of course "ontologically superior sort of depends, by default, on where you stand. Who is'nt "ontologically superior"?, or, at least chauvinist--I think this is the American condition, especially now, and may explain a lot about the polarization of our nation at this time, otherwise known as "the culture wars". Best wishes, --DWLindeman

  2. NB: All typos in previous post are the sole responsibility of the author, i.e. when corrected: " . . . but have yet to make it to Texas)." And: "isn't"
    -) --DWLindeman

  3. Brad, I am not yet apprised of the commentary of N.T. Wright, nor Richard Hays, nonetheless, I'm enormously grateful to you for this post. It causes me to think of D.B. Hart's assertion that there's no such thing as religion, but rather, Christianity, and, other religions, each of them religious communities of doctrine and belief, that are culturally unique. His view, is perhaps qualified, in an existential sense, and, there are even Catholic theologians who have suggested as much. e.g., Jacques Dupuis. However, I think that N.T. Wright, and his interpreter, Hays, may well be acquired for a productive revision of e.g. the constructs put forward in H. Richard Niebuhr's "Christ and Culture" --DWLindeman