Scot McKnight suggests, in an article in Christianity Today that
… scholarly attempts to discover the ‘real’ Jesus have failed. And why that’s a good thing.
Then he suggests
This leads to a fundamental observation about all genuine historical Jesus studies: Historical Jesus scholars construct what is in effect a fifth gospel. The reconstructed Jesus is not identical to the canonical Jesus or the orthodox Jesus. He is the reconstructed Jesus, which means he is a “new” Jesus.
How does he know that those scholars have missed the boat? He’s suggesting, after all, that the entire lot of Jesus Seekers has it wrong. But again, how does he know they are? Has he met the Historical Jesus and so knows, without a doubt, who’s right and who’s wrong?
The problem with McKnight’s essay is that he falls into the same trap of certainty which he demonizes and denounces in others. He KNOWS they are all wrong. But how does – or could- he KNOW such a thing? He disapproves of the reconstructions of the Jesus Lookers at the same moment he reconstructs his own Jesus, made in his own image, and after his own likeness, in negative. He has, to borrow a line from Jesse Helms, come to the conclusion that ‘he can’t define the Historical Jesus, but he knows what it is when he sees it, and he hasn’t seen it yet’.
McKnight concludes his essay thusly-
I now make a confession. For the better part of my academic career, I have participated in studies of the Gospels and the historical Jesus. I am an insider to the conversation, and have been part of the steering committee for the SBL’S Historical Jesus Section. In fact, I was once asked to be the chair. Had that invitation come five years earlier, I would have eagerly accepted the responsibility. But that invitation came at the end of a long project of mine that culminated in my book Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory. I declined the position because I could no longer commit myself to historical Jesus studies. The last thing I wrote in that book was the first chapter, which was an essay about method and what historical Jesus studies can accomplish.
Count the number of times he uses the word ‘I’ and you get a sense of what the quest is for him- ‘it’s all about me’. And since none of the Questers have found an Emergent Image of Jesus, McKnight has measured them in the balances and found them wanting. Not because they are all wrong (how could they be- for then Jesus would be utterly alien- unlike anyone and anything that has ever lived), but because he doesn’t find one that suits HIM.
In other words, failing to find a Jesus who measures up to the ego-centrism of the Emergent movement, McKnight has no use for that quest. So he tosses the baby out with the bath water. What use is the Quest if it doesn’t provide one with a Jesus one can co-opt?