The Historical Christ & the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History

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The Historical Christ dr The Jesus of Faith: The Incarnation.al Narrative as History. By C. Stephen Evans, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1996. xi + 386 pp. $75 (cloth). $17.95 (paper).

As C. Stephen Evans's witty inversion of that modern standard of "scholarly" reductionism is intended to suggest ("The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith"), Christianity can no more countenance an indifference to history than it can, again, colonize historical study to its own ends. Events matter, history counts and "what really happened" is constitutive of the truth that Christianity-and more so "ordinary Christians"-proclaim both today and tomorrow.

Evans, an American professor of philosophy, is indeed concerned about the trials that "ordinary Christians" have had to endure of late: that is to say since the dawning of modernity. Rembrandt's painting of The Incredulity of St. Thomas bedecks the cover of the book; however it is the incredulity with which Christianity has been met that is his concern. Thus, if modernity has meant, among other things, scepticism concerning the supernatural, moral difficulties with the atonement and, most bitter of all, the development of critical views concerning the historicity of the New Testament, then Evans has good news to proclaim. "The time is ripe," he comments, "for a thorough rethinking of the problem of the historical foundations of Christian faith" (p. 22).

But what is this problem? ;Vell, we will be disappointed if we assume that Evans's subtitle-"The Incarnational Narrative as History"-presages a journey into current concerns with the nature of narrative and narrative theology. No, Evans has some rather more robust and "straightforward" problems and questions to address. He writes, "I am interested in, and I think I am representative here of most religious believers. . . whether the man Jesus of Nazareth was really divine, was born of a virgin, taught certain things, performed some miracles, was crucified and raised from the dead" (p. 212). It is these sorts of historical events that go together to form what he terms "the incarnational narrative". And it is of this that we must ask, in an epistemological key: "Is this basic narrative historically reliable?" (p. 5). In short, can we believe it?

His answer, developed over a rather bulky text of 350 pages, is not quite what one might expect. Now of course, "the incarnational narrative" is always more than a listing of events and as such "always already" a fashioned and highly mediated artifact. But Evans is interested in neither the exegetical issues that this raises (historical or literary) nor the dogmatic questions that this inevitably provokes. Rather, he is concerned with this something-"the incarnational narrative"-to which one can assent without exiling oneself from epistemological coherence and intellectual responsibility. …