Monday, 17 September 2007

Was Jesus Political? A New Testament Perspective - 1

The OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue was held on September 15, 2007, with more than 300 people filling the newly completed church hall of Petaling Jaya Gospel Hall, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya. Apart from the two speakers (of which I was one) and five commentators who spoke on the topic, there were also interesting and lively comments from the floor. I guess the only regret that we had was that time was simply too short for further discussion and clarification.

Some have requested for the text of my lecture, and I promised that I will post it in my blog. However, let me just say that in my lecture, I have avoided interacting with various scholars and the wider issues because of the limited time (I was allocated 15 minutes) and for other reasons that I have mentioned elsewhere in my earlier post.

For those who wish that I could have interacted with New Testament scholars including John Dominic Crossan, Richard Horsley, Scot McKnight, Wolfgang Stegemann, Gerd Theissen, N. T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, and others, I hope that your patience will be rewarded as I am already in the process of expanding my lecture to include further interaction with these scholars. I hope to have it published in a peer-reviewed/academic journal in the very near future. In the meantime, your critical comments for my lecture is welcome.


OHMSI Inaugural Dialogue:
“Was Jesus Political?” A New Testament Perspective
By Dr Lim Kar Yong
Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Seminari Theoloji Malaysia


I recall reading an influential evangelical pastor affirming that the church should not engage in political action. For this pastor, the mission, energy and investment of the church is not to clean up the evils of society but to evangelise society. Unfortunately, this also characterises the position of the majority in our own shores. It is unfortunate that when the studies of Jesus are carried out within the confessional setting in the church, it is often accomplished though our theological framework. “Standard” understanding of Jesus is that he is the Son of God who died on the cross for the salvation of humanity. It is also often assumed that the Gospels and other scriptural writings are solely religious in nature. While this theological approach to the study of Jesus is no doubt true to our orthodox confession, this approach regrettably presents a one-sided perspective of Jesus – one that I am tempted to describe as a domestication of a “spiritual Jesus.” It is a Jesus that is, in the words of Scot McKnight, “described exclusively…in the category of a spiritual master, (and) as one who was primarily concerned with the inner religious life and its disciplines for the individual.”

This morning, I hope to reconsider our understanding of Jesus. Drawing from the contribution of the Historical Jesus research and the recent rise in the interest of social-scientific approach to the New Testament, we hope to reflect on this question, “Was Jesus political?” Or, in other words, is there a place in our faith for a “political” Jesus instead of merely a “spiritual” Jesus?

Before we proceed, perhaps it is good to clarify what I mean by the term, “politics.” In antiquity, according to Aristotle, politics is understood in the broad sense in which the objective is to realise the idea of a good life of a community within a city. On the other hand, politics can also be understood in the narrow sense as an art of gaining and maintaining power. I prefer to engage my reflection on the political Jesus in the broad sense. I use political to mean relating to public, state, or civil affairs. As such by “political” I do not mean that Jesus was thinking in terms of forming political parties or launching a revolt against Rome or Jerusalem. By “political” I propose to reconsider the historical Jesus as someone who has a mission to the nation of Israel in calling her to repentance in light of the coming judgment of God.

So the two questions I would like to consider are:
1) How much awareness does Jesus exhibit in his self-understanding of his mission to Israel as being political?
2) How would the multitudes perceive Jesus to be political through his teachings and activities?

Because of the limited time, I propose to consider briefly three aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus in light of the above two questions:
1. The self-understanding of Jesus and his mission
2. The message of Jesus
3. The activities of Jesus

To be continued.....
Part 2 - The self-understanding of Jesus and his mission; the message of Jesus; and the activities of Jesus.
Part 3 - The implication for the church today


Rev. Sivin said...

good intro .. not bad for 15 minutes!

The Hedonese said...

Great stuffs bro! You have struck the sweet spot between 'scholarly' and 'devotional' in this one :)

Have uploaded the powerpoint slides on

lemme know if u want the "codes" for the presentation

Kar Yong said...

Thanks, Sivin. Hey, any good other good shots taken during the event? I saw you busy with your camera!

Kar Yong said...

Thanks, Dave. Can have the codes for the slides ah??

Dave said...

ok sent to ur mail di...

Also I like Rev Wong's input at the end cos its easy in forums like these to rant and wail against the failures of the church, that he balanced that up with a love for the body of christ and the Lord whose presence is in their midst