Hearty Heresy


What is the gospel according to Jesus?
February 21, 2007, 11:53 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality

“Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.” At least that’s what Stephen Mitchell says in the introduction to his Gospel According to Jesus. Of course there’s no reason to take Mitchell’s word for it–that’d be like shutting down your critical thinking and taking Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (whoever they were) literally. And that’s what orthodox Xians do…which I’m not, thank you very much. I’m a heretic and proud of it. But I do like Stephen Mitchell’s approach to the life of the spirit. A little bit Jewish, a little bit Christian, and a whole lotta Zen Buddhist. Which is why I’m turning to him for my Lenten discipline.

Yes, even heretics can have a Lenten discipline, and here’s mine for this year. Every day, starting today, I plan on re-reading the scant twenty-six pages at the center of Mitchell’s Gospel According to Jesus which are, as far as Mitchell’s concerned, “the authentic passages in the Gospels.” They begin with Jesus being baptized by John and end with Jesus dying on the cross. Nothing more, nothing else. Why do this? Because I believe that Jesus was a human being, one who had something truly meaningful to say, one whose message has been distorted beyond the point of recognition. I’d like to give the man his due. So I’ll spend forty days listening to what Robert Coles called “the lovely, fiery, utterly brave and unique voice of Jesus.”

Speaking of unique voices, I do believe I’ve found a theme song for this blog. You can check it out at the Fat Possum Records website. Click on Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha where it says Featured Album. You’ll go to a page where you can download a sample tune: track number four, a little ditty called “Heretics.” Happy listening!

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9 Comments so far
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Why choose to believe that Coles can dinstinguish what Jesus actually said and get us any closer to the gospel than could the first Gospel writers? Coles, himself, like most of the Gospel writers is picking and choosing specific material according to the audience he is writing for. Why discount Matthew, Mark and Luke for doing the same thing for their own audiences (and having done so a lot closer to the actual events). Besides, if you want to understand Christianity in its first, refined form, you have to read Paul’s New Testament writings as some of them predate the gospels by as much as perhaps 30 years.

Comment by j4jesus

Good questions. You point the way when you ask “Why choose….” Heresy is about choice. Rather than being told by someone where to go to get the goods, you make your own decision. I choose to read Stephen Mitchell this lent. (Coles is just the guy I took some blurbage from…although I do appreciate his work, too.) And I’m not discounting the writers of the Gospels–I’m just not going to take them literally. The were, indeed, writing for their own audiences. Finally, I’m not trying to understand Xianity…I’m trying to understand what the living Jesus taught between the time of his baptism and his death. Thanks for the comments!

Comment by heartyheretic

Christianity, at least for me, is also about choice. In that way, I suppose heresy and Christianity are similar. Jesus also was understood to be pretty darn heretical when he was alive. What are your criteria for determining what would have or would not have been spoken by Jesus between his baptism and his death? Marcus Borg and many others have attempted to do this. Several years ago I had the opportunity to hear Borg lecture. He was asked why he felt his work was important. He gave a lengthy answer about a boyhood incident at the age of 12, as I recall it. His basic conclusion was that had some things been removed from the Gospels or not included he would have felt more psychologically secure at the age of 12. Thus, he was removing sayings and stories from the text in an incredibly subjective manner. You have chosen not to be a Christian, but you are on a search to find out what Jesus would have really said. What criteria are you choosing to use as you do this?

Comment by j4jesus

Yes indeed, Jesus was pretty darn heretical. That’s what I love about him. Mitchell would admit that his method is incredibly subjective, too, as was Thomas Jefferson’s when he did his version of the Gospels. Your earlier comment about Paul’s writings coming before the Gospels is an example of textual analysis, which is one way to try and discern who said what and when they said it. I’m using whatever I can on my spiritual journey: prayer, meditation, reading everyone from Bonhoeffer to Borg and beyond. In the end, however, it’s all about what speaks to my heart. Orthodox Xianity stopped speaking to me long, long ago.

Comment by heartyheretic

But if I allow the whole of scripture (rather than the parts that I subjectively like) to speak to me, then do I not arrive at something far more objective for my life (that is, if objectivity is in any sense important at all.) The gospels have Jesus saying many things that I don’t like, but I sense that I have grown into more of an understanding of who Jesus is by dealing with those passages rather than cutting them. The problem is reading the the passages outside of the typical, institutional understanding of the passages. As a pastor, I get to have fun doing that from time to time.

Comment by j4jesus

Yes, it is fun reading passages outside of the typical institutional understanding of them, and it’s been my experience that pastors (and theologians, of course) are the folks who get to do that the most, which is great. I think studying the Bible is a fine thing to do, and sometimes it’s helpful to take a few selected passages and let them speak to you. I do try to stay open to a range of scriptures, however. And I would definitely like to do thorough survey of the New Testament again sometime, especially to keep up on what’s Paul’s and what’s not. I mean, he wasn’t ALL bad!

Comment by heartyheretic

[…] Heresy, God, Theology, Christianity, Faith, Spirituality, Religion Emphasis on love. One of the first posts I wrote for this blog included this response from Stephen Mitchell to the question “What is […]

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why does the vatican city hide and keep things,possible the truth from us?
example in the days of nostrodamus they burnt and collected books in why?
you look at the film the da vinci code to me it doesnot change the bible for me however the questions it leaves you thinking is there any truth there?
there was a parable written and found in 1945 which is supposed to be the last words of jesus said to his disciples before he died.apparantly these writtings are meant to be hearasy.
i could tell you and people a lot about my life and different things that have happend.
eg. i was in a r.t.a 3 days ago instead of crashing my van into a car i had time to turn the steering wheel pull up the hand break and roll my van over to safety with just an abression to my arm.i avoided an accident as the women and child would have crashed into a van with a solid 3 ton weight in.
you may say lucky however i felt i was guided as to what to do.
i reckon there is a lot more to life than what we know and that people higher up the tree of life know more than what tgey ket on?

Comment by steve.

I certainly agree that “there’s a lot more to life than what we know.” And I don’t believe that the Vatican has any special insight into what that is!

Comment by heartyheretic




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