Resurrecting Jesus: The Renewal of New Testament Theology (Cascade, 2015)
1. Your book title “Resurrection Jesus” is very interesting. To be blunt, why did you write this book?
I wrote this book to tell the people that the historical Jesus must be brought back to our discussion of New Testament theology. The traditional New Testament theology has not seriously taken into account the work of the historical Jesus. For example, people have no interest in the question of what brought him to death. His crucifixion is the result of what he did. We have to know what he proclaimed and why he was willing to die. Otherwise, he was not born to die. Jesus is a historical figure who should not be domesticated by any one.
2. What do you think is the primary work of Jesus?
I believe that Jesus’ primary message or teaching is well summarized in Mark 1:14-15: “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and God’s rule has come near; change your heart and believe in the good news.” As we see here, Jesus proclaims the good news of God; it is God’s good news. Good news is about God: God’s time and God’s rule has come in the here and now (perfect tense). For this God’s radical time and rule to be effective, people have to accept it by changing their minds, which is what metanoia means. So it is impossible to talk about Jesus without God-talk in first-century Judaism. New Testament theology would be misleading if we do not look at God to whom Jesus points his finger. Jesus does the works of God, not his own.
3. As you know, there is a big divide between history and theology, or between the historical Jesus and New Testament theology. For example, some historians say that the New Testament is not based on the historical Jesus. How is it possible for you to do theology by drawing attention to both of these seemingly irreconcilable areas of study?
I believe that it is possible by redefining New Testament theology in which we can engage the historical Jesus. I broadly redefine New Testament theology as our explorations about God, the Messiah, and the world. New Testament theology is not constructed deductively (from heavenly revelation, for example), but can be constructed by readers who critically reevaluate not only the work of the historical Jesus but also various writings in the New Testament. So in my book I define New Testament theology as follows:
New Testament theology involves both what the New Testament says about God, the Messiah, and the world, and how the reader evaluates, engages, or interprets diverse yet divergent texts of the New Testament, including difficult, sexist, and oppressive texts. The reader’s task is not merely to discern what is good and acceptable in the New Testament, but also to surface its limitations by examining early Christians’ disparate positions about God, the Messiah, and the world. Consequently, New Testament theology is constructed by the reader who deals with both the divergent texts of the New Testament and the historical Jesus to whom they refer. By carefully sifting through the layers of New Testament witnesses while acknowledging unbridgeable gaps between them and the historical Jesus, the reader, in view of all aspects of life in the first century CE and today, has to explore relevant relationships among God, the Messiah, and the world.
4. Once again, why is the historical Jesus important to your New Testament theology?
Let me use a body analogy. Just as the body without the spirit is dead, New Testament theology without the historical Jesus is dead because the former is built on the work of the latter. No matter how many gaps exist between the historical Jesus and the New Testament, New Testament theology needs a solid understanding about the historical Jesus.
5. Can you give us a few examples of your critically reconstructed contents of New Testament theology?
Yes. For example, the “righteousness of God” will be redefined as God’s righteousness rather than as an individual justification. “Faith of Christ Jesus” will be also redefined as his faithfulness through which he proclaims and embodies God’s rule in the here and now. Accordingly, “the kingdom of God” will be redefined as God’s rule in the here and now that challenges Rome’s rule or any obstacles that occlude the flow of God’s justice. In the end, Christians will be redefined as Christ-followers who do the works of God.
6. What do you want to say to your readers if they ask why this book should be a must read?
I like to list three important benefits for readers:
1. Getting a better, clearer understanding about the historical Jesus and the New Testament writings that refer to him.
2. Exploring the significance of Jesus’ life, teaching, and death, based not on doctrine but on his work of God in first-century Judaism and Palestine.
3. Redefining New Testament theology as a process of discerning and engaging the historical Jesus and the New Testament writings.
7. Do you believe your newly defined New Testament theology can improve human conditions?
Yes, very much so. We can learn from Jesus and follow his footsteps that embody God’s presence in the here and now. Jesus’ death is the result of his costly proclamation of God’s rule in the here and now. It is not somewhere else than here. However, there are lots of people who see Jesus’ death merely as salvific, vicarious atonement that does not look into the evil hands responsible for his crucifixion. By the way, Jesus’ death is the form of crucifixion, capital punishment by Rome. So when we see Jesus’ crucifixion, we have to see both God’s love that he embodies at the risk of his life and both his love of God and God’s judgment that brings evil people and power to justice. Condoning evil is not the point of Jesus’ crucifixion.