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Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel

Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel

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by Luke Timothy Johnson

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Who is the real Jesus? How can we experience the mystery, compelxity, and richness of his spirituality and teachings in our lives today? In this gently instructive and inspiring guide, Luke Timothy Johnson leads us to a deeper understanding and practice of classic Christian spirituality and faith. Translating his biblical scholarship into simple, elegant language,


Who is the real Jesus? How can we experience the mystery, compelxity, and richness of his spirituality and teachings in our lives today? In this gently instructive and inspiring guide, Luke Timothy Johnson leads us to a deeper understanding and practice of classic Christian spirituality and faith. Translating his biblical scholarship into simple, elegant language, he offers a compelling and wise reflection on the real Jesus—not the reconstructed historical figure but the resurrected Christ, a living savior we can encounter every day.

Living Jesus elucidates the mystery of Jesus' resurrection and its central role in the Christian experience. It explores the diversity and fullness of the New Testament views of Christ, revealing how each book's perspective can deepen our understanding of Jesus. Profoundly insightful, Living Jesus offers valuable lessons on how we can accept the Gospels' powerful invitation to an authenic Christian spirituality.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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He Is the Living One

It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive.To the person in either of those conditions it probably makes an even bigger difference.But it certainly also matters to anyone interested in that person.

When someone is dead, even someone we knew alive, we may be able to learn more about him or her as time goes by If the person was famous, accomplishments or words will continue to circulate.Diligent research might uncover proof of actual deeds and words, and we can also discover how these were perceived and interpreted by those who survive.But the only way we will hear from the actual person again is if some previously undiscovered deed or unpublished word is made public.And even. then, we say, "I didn't know she thought that back then.How interesting." We hear about it now, but the information is about someone no longer here: an echo from the past, not a hew word in the present.

When we think someone is alive, we have a completely different set of expectations.People who are alive are still capable of doing new things and saying new things.They can change their minds.They can show up in different places. from the ones they used to inhabit,.They can surprise us.They can appear on our doorstep, contact us in the middle of a family celebration, arrive at our bedside when we are sick.Even if we are separated from a living person for a long period of time, or circumstances keep us far apart, we are able to say, "She is my friend," or "He is my brother," in a way different not only in tone but also in meaning from the way we say, "She was my mother," or "He was my teacher," aboutsomeone who has died.

When someone is still living and we are in relationship with that person, our knowledge of the person is more multiform than in the case of someone dead.In addition to the documentary record and the memories of others--data available to us about all people, living and dead--new data is still coming in.It is possible to address a living person and ask, "What did you mean by that?" or "Do you still think that?" and expect an answer.In the presence of this person, furthermore, we can observe how she acts with others.Even more important, we can experience how she acts toward and with us.As a result of this continued contact, knowledge of the living person grows and changes.The process of learning is therefore much more complicated.

The dead, on the other hand, stay still.Their deeds are ended, their words are complete; their power--however impressive it may once have been-is gone.Others have quite literally taken their place, walking over the spot where they lie buried.They neither move nor complain.An adequate historical reconstruction of the dead is therefore a goal realizable at least in principle, although--depending on the information available for analysis--often extraordinarily difficult to achieve.We know how frequently historical perspectives even on the recent dead change in response to new information and changing criteria for evaluation.But ideally at least, historians can hope to fix an account of a person truly dead, finally in the past.

The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this:
Do we think he is dead or alive?

If Jesus is simply dead, there are any number of ways in which we can relate ourselves to his life and his accomplishments.And we might even, if some obscure bit of data should turn up, hope to learn more about him.But we cannot reasonably expect to learn more from him.

If he is alive, however, everything changes.It is no longer a matter of our questioning a historical record, but a matter of our being put in question by one who has broken every rule of ordinary human existence.If Jesus lives, then it must be as life-giver.Jesus is not simply a figure of the past in that case, but a person in the present; not merely a memory that we can analyze and manipulate, but an agent who can confront and instruct us. What we learn about him must therefore include what we continue to learn from him.

To be a Christian means to assert that Jesus is alive, is indeed life--giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45).To consider Jesus simply as a figure of the past means to consider Jesus not from the perspective of a Christian but from that of one who stands outside Christian conviction.The Christian prays, "Come, Lord Jesus". (Rev. 22:20; see 1 Cor. 16:22), intending thereby to address a real and living person capable of manifesting his presence still more palpably Such a prayer is nonsensical to one who is not a Christian, for it is fantasy to address the dead as though still alive.It is either make-believe or necromancy to summon from a grave one who died two thousand years ago.

This seems to be one of those very few choices that allow no equivocation.There is no middle ground between dead and alive. if Jesus is dead, then his story is completed.If he is alive, then his story continues.

The decision whether to consider Jesus dead or alive ought to have consequences for how we regard his story.If his story continues after his death, then paying attention only to what he did before his death is at best inadequate, at worst fundamentally distorting.For if Jesus is alive, then he is alive not simply as a continuation of his former existence (as a wraith or poltergeist might be) but as the one who has entered into God's own life and who rules creation as its Lord.

To be a Christian, then, means confessing that Jesus is alive in the sense of that ancient declaration, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11).

What People are Saying About This

Dr. Ben Witherington
"I am extremely pleased to see this positive and enthusiastic contribution to the revival of Jesus studies done by a careful scholar who understands well the critical issues involved. With a focus on the Living Christ, it fills a much-needed gap in recent historical studies on Jesus that stop with the crucifixion. If you want to understand the Jesus the church has always worshipped, rather than the diminutive figure of some recent Jesus tomes, this is the book for you."
L. Gregory Jones
Living Jesus nourishes an authentic Christian spirituality...
— Duke University Divinity School
William R. Farmer
"This book is important. Johnson makes clear that there is more to Jesus than can be measured by the historian. Like John crying in the wilderness, this is a voice that needs to be heard. The implicit call is not only for repentance, but also for dialogue."
Miroslav Volf
"Johnson demonstrates that the 'living Jesus' of the biblical traditions is immensely more fascinating and significant than any of the 'dead Jesuses' that the quests for the historical Jesus keep producing."
Lawrence S. Cunningham
"Luke Timothy Johnson's new book does two fundamental things beautifully: it honors the word 'spirituality' in a seriously theological fashion and grounds that much-abused word in a full reading of the New Testament witness to the Risen Jesus. This accomplished work, wearing considerable learning lightly, deserves a wide readership."
Roland E. Murphy
"Professor Johnson presents a stark choice: Jesus Dead or Alive--the dry bones of the 'historical' Jesus or the apostolic witness to the living Jesus. What a relief to 'learn Jesus' from this challenging and heartwarming presentation."
Marva J. Dawn
"In this timely and restorative book Luke Timothy Johnson superbly models approaching the New Testament not 'with suspicion but with trust.' The result is that scholars and laypersons alike are invited to study the biblical portraits, reflect on the character revealed by witnesses--and thereby 'learn' Jesus as the resurrected Lord at work in his people today."
Richard Rohr
"This book is frankly very important at this time: many good and well-intentioned Christians are losing the dynamism of a living Presence for mere mind games. Luke Timothy Johnson gives us the pattern and promise of the 'real thing.' I hope many read it and 'know.'"
William M. Thompson
"Living Jesus is many things: a brief but comprehensive New Testament introduction, a superb biblical foundation for courses on Jesus and christology, an exercise in biblical interpretation that masterfully illustrates and teaches interpretation, a testimony of faith that strengthens the faith of others. A challenging work destined to be controversial; many of us will remember it as a key work along the path of biblical scholarship's keeping and/or reowning of its soul."
James J. Buckley
"Johnson's Living Jesus is a clear and lively book on the risen Jesus as well as the lives of those who seek his way. I know of no better brief survey of the New Testament that takes with equal seriousness its passionate focus on the living Jesus and the practices required to learn to be learners (disciples) today. In contrast to the dead Jesus of so many historians and the timeless Jesus of so many philosophers and theologians, Johnson does indeed lead us into the heart of the Gospel."
Bruce Chilton
"Proceeding from faith in the resurrected Jesus as living Spirit, Luke Timothy Johnson clearly sets out the classical modes of encountering that Jesus. Scripture, creeds, worship, and teaching are all depicted in their living, personal power within the church, in sharp contrast to a merely historical view of Jesus."

Meet the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. A Roman Catholic, Johnson was a Benedictine monk and priest before becoming a biblical scholar. He is the author of several scholarly books and has written for Commonwealth and Christian Century.

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Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the world of New Testament biblical scholarship, we are in the midst of the third Quest for the Historical Jesus.The media have shown more than a casual interest in the Quest. In 1998, PBS produced a four-hour documentary, 'From Jesus to Christ,' and, as recently as June 26, 2000, ABC presented Peter Jennings' 'Search for Jesus', a two-hour documentary. Both of these relied heavily on members of the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal Protestant scholars, who explain away much of what the Four Gospels say about Jesus as myth: the early disciples' need to explain the death of Jesus. One of these scholars, John Dominic Crossan, goes so far as to theorize that there was an empty tomb because there was never a burial!It is indeed unfortunate that neither documentary included Luke Timothy Johnson among the scholars presented.He has shown us that when you subject the Scriptures to the ciritcal standards of modern history and sociology, the results of the quest are extremely limited!In this book, his finest to date, he raises the question: Is Jesus living or dead? The Church worships a living Lord who rose from the dead, while the Quest for the Historical Jesus focuses on a historical Jesus that is dead.I highly recommend this book to every Christian who feels that there needs to be a response to the Quest. Luke Timothy Johnson makes just such a response.