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Christ Is the Question [Paperback]

By Wayne A. Meeks (Author)
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Item description for Christ Is the Question by Wayne A. Meeks...

In this series of reflections on the mystery of Jesus and the questions that surround him, noted New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks redirects the course of the Jesus debates. Insisting that we cease focusing on who the historical Jesus was and ask instead "Who is Christ?" Meeks demonstrates with electric and lucid prose that Jesus is not a permanent artifact whose precise nature can be traced back through history but, rather, a figure whose identity continues to emerge as contemporary persons engage him in their daily lives.

Publishers Description

In this series of reflections on the mystery of Jesus and the questions that surround him, noted New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks redirects the course of the Jesus debates. Insisting that we cease focusing on who the historical Jesus was and ask instead, who is Christ? Meeks demonstrates with electric and lucid prose that Jesus is not a permanent artifact whose precise nature can be traced back through history but, rather, a figure whose identity continues to emerge as contemporary persons engage him in their daily lives.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Christ Is the Question by Wayne A. Meeks has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Commonweal - 01/12/2007 page 26
  • Booklist - 01/01/2006 page 27
  • Christian Century - 05/30/2006 page 25

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   166
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.96" Width: 6.5" Height: 0.51"
Weight:   0.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2006
Publisher   Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN  066422962X  
ISBN13  9780664229627  

Availability  51 units.
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More About Wayne A. Meeks

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Wayne A. Meeks is the Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is also the author of The Origins of Christian Morality and In Search of the Early Christians, both published by Yale University Press.

Wayne A. Meeks has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Library of Early Christianity
  2. Sources for Biblical Study

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Jesus > Historical Jesus
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Christology
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History

Christian Product Categories
Books > Bible Study > New Testament Studies > Jesus Studies

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Reviews - What do customers think about Christ Is the Question?

A Curative for Literalism   May 11, 2007
Theme and Method

This reviewer found Meeks perspective on the varieties of Biblical interpretation that might lead to knowledge of Christ refreshing and his arguments convincing. His central theme in editing this series of lectures into book form is best encapsulated on p. 129:

The peculiarities of the different traditions are not mere concealing husks that must be stripped from the truth that is the same for all. Reality is not something out there apart from the knowing.

He amplifies this non-Platonic perspective by emphasizing the need to "resist the imperialism of the single vision" (p. 126) when it comes to knowing Christ. For those who stand in the tradition of literal interpretation, Meeks' perspective is illuminating. On p. 3 the subheading "The Many Faces of Jesus" stand out when contrasted to works familiar to this reviewer such as the Christological study entitled "That One Face." For Meeks, knowing Christ is an ongoing enterprise that must move beyond the search for any `historical' Jesus. As he states on pp. 20 & 21:

...I suggest that a major reason why scientific history's search for the real Jesus failed was that we were all working with an inadequate model of human selfhood. I argue that we may get further by adopting a model of the self that is even more modern: a model of personal identity as a social and transactional process. It is a model developed by psychologists and others from the observation that each of us comes to know "who I am," not just by sitting and thinking about myself, but, beginning in earliest childhood, by responding to other persons who respond to me. ...Using that model will not get us to the real Jesus either, but it may help us to escape from the subjective idealism and romanticism that have warped all our recent images of him.

Meeks' Christology is one that moves beyond the historic creeds of the Church that are often considered a forced public response to heresy rather than an occasion for worship. He prefers a more poetic approach to understanding Christ such as what he considers the early hymn of Philippians 2: 6 - 11. Meeks' rejects the type of romanticism that produced such `non-canonical' hymns as "In the Garden" with the following conclusion (p.38):

...all these are signs of modern romantic religion, the kind of Christianity that insists that the only question that counts is, "Do you take Jesus as your personal savior?"

To put Meeks in the camp of modern, proselytizing Evangelicalism would thus be a mistake. In closing, Meeks sums up his overall perspective on the Bible:

It is not a rule book. It is not a set of doctrines. It is above all not a ransom note. It is a love letter.

While many may argue with this view, the purpose of Meeks dialogue with the reader is to refine and clarify the multitude of interpretations that have created the spectrum of beliefs concerning the identity of Jesus.


Concerning the nature of faith, Meeks believes that "We have been seduced by a long history of theological debates to think that beliefs and doctrine define faith - both for believers and for anti-believers" (p.35). This reviewer considers this a helpful perspective in the climate of post-Modern relativity where the opinion of the individual reigns supreme and leads to a rejection of a community-based and nurtured faith. Meeks continues by arguing, "Theology is the grammar of the faithful life, in one hopeful formulation, but language is more than grammar, and life more than both" (p. 36).

On the doctrine of claritas scripturae, Meeks confronts the literalist with the finding that the plain meaning of the scripture "was a bit tricky and depended a lot on who was doing the looking" (p.105). He goes on to say on p. 114:

The plain sense as it once existed, the common sense found in the text by authoritative tradition, has vanished, and in its place is a chaotic puzzle to be decoded at the whim of whatever interpreter you may trust.

This `decoding', in the opinion of this reviewer, can lead to viewing the scripture as the data from which theology is constructed rather than the testimony of believers who worked out their salvation with `fear and trembling' (Phil 2:12).


For the reader worn weary by the putative certainty of many works that present what one ought to believe, Christ is the Question makes the asking as important as the finding in any search for spiritual clarity. The title of this work is almost a curative in and of itself and the narrative flow leads the reader through a delightful retelling of the interpretations about Christ that make Christian history such an interesting story.
Maintain a questioning attitude  Jun 5, 2006
Perception changes whenever you change position. Likewise, perception changes as time passes. These are basic ideas to which none would disagree. In this book, Meeks shows us that the way we perceive Christ has gone through the changes also.

Most of the chapters of the book were lectures given at Emory University. As such, the language of the text has an academic quality that is not always easy flowing for the lay reader. It requires a bit more focus to follow what the author is saying. Further, students of literature, history, and theology will follow more easily as they have probably heard of the scholars mentioned and will be familiar with the work.

However, the gist of the book is not to "muddy" the proverbial waters in understanding Christ. By illustrating the change in academic perception, Meeks is showing us that Jesus is not intended to be taken for granted. We should always continue to study and discuss Jesus and what he means to us.

I would recommend the book.
A step toward reconstructing the formation of the Jesus figure  May 17, 2006
This book is short, a quick read, and enjoyable. This is a critical history (high-level, not detailed) of research philosophy and modern motives and expectations. Meeks presents interesting critical points about history of the efforts and motives of trying to get to the historical Jesus via modern historical research. Meeks calls for bracketing-off the historical Jesus as one about whom nothing can be known except "that" he existed.

Meeks uncritically retains the assumption, taken for granted, that a single historical Jesus existed, even while denouncing the attempts and claims that scientific historical method enables us to know anything about him.

He mentions Paul's "the night when Jesus was betrayed" as an example of how Paul alludes to the life biography of the historical Jesus. But Doherty's book Jesus Puzzle indexes and discusses this passage, 1 Cor 11:23, showing that it's no such thing as a historical biographical recounting.

I'm certainly not reading such books because I'm trying to decide whether Jesus existed -- we're now a generation past such an investigation; future research is needed within the no-historical-Jesus framework, which Meeks refrains from mentioning. He words it so well and yet frustratingly retains the assumption that Jesus existed: he asserts that the question is, how was the image of Jesus formulated, what was the history of forming the image of Jesus -- not what were the historical biographical details of Jesus' life. (Or how were the images of Jesus formulated, in the plural.)

Meeks brackets-off the historical Jesus (alas while retaining such a confusing assumption) and calls for research into history of the formation of the image or images of Jesus Christ. However, I object that any attempt to bracket-off the historical Jesus from research of the history-of-formation of the Christian figure of Jesus will fail to really bracket him off; as long as you retain the uncritical assumption that Jesus existed and was the causal origin of Christianity, you're bound to be confused while attempting to reconstruct Christian origins.

Meeks doesn't go far enough -- not that I demand at this early stage that he go all the way to a definite rejection of Jesus' historicity. To be self-consistent, Meeks ought to agnostically bracket-off the assumption that Jesus existed, not only bracket-off our knowledge of the historical Jesus. Instead of saying that Jesus certainly existed but we can't know anything about Jesus' actual life historically (only "that" he existed), Meeks ought to say that we can't know whether Jesus existed, while saying (as he does) that we ought to study the history of formation of the image or figure of Jesus.

That specific agnosticism would make Meeks self-consistent. He thinks he's capable of bracketing-off the quest for the historical Jesus from the history-of-formation of the image and figure of Jesus, but actually, as long as Meeks retains the uncritical, unexamined assumption that Jesus existed, confusion is already bound to distort Meeks' effort to reconstruct the history-of-formation of the image and figure of Jesus.

This is not to suggest that I approve of agnosticism about whether Jesus existed. Reading any ten no-Jesus books is more than sufficient to settle the case; we have reasonable and ample proof and evidence that Jesus didn't exist -- though the assertion "Jesus didn't exist" is unclear and has to be unpacked and defined, such as the words 'Jesus' and 'existed'. The position Meeks' book advocates is the most inconsistent and unsatisfying of all; if you make good on Meeks' call for a change of direction, the result calls Meeks' framework into question. His blend of being half-critical and half-uncritical is a frustrating oil-and-water mixture, like Doherty's mixing-together of the lack of critical questioning of Paul's historicity with a highly critical questioning of Jesus' historicity.

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