When I saw that the talking heads featured in the DVD series were Marcus Borg and Brian McLaren and Diana Butler-Bass and Matthew Fox, I already had a good idea from whom the videos would purport to “save” Jesus.
I was not disappointed.
Saving Jesus, Redux brings together a host of moderate-liberal commentators for short interviews, taking on familiar questions such as the character of the historical Jesus, connections between politics and faith, the nature of faith-confessions, and other such things that have been staples of the conference-speaking circuit and popular theology for some time (at least as long as I can remember). A set of young, photogenic narrators set up the questions for each section with stylized lighting and background music, and then the video cuts to a series of short interview answers from some fairly well known and popular-among-former-evangelical speakers. Each section begins with an overarching theme or question (“Jesus Through the Ages,” “Who was Jesus?,” “What Can We Know About Jesus (and How?)”, and so on) and runs for several minutes, and the whole collection seems geared towards group discussions. None of the material is surprisingly bad, but neither is any of the material surprisingly interesting. Most of it one could find elsewhere without much effort.
If you’ve never heard anyone call for a “Jewish” Jesus who has little to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Midrash but has plenty in common with post-Holocaust ethical theory, if you’ve never seen Paul and Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Calvin do the perp walk, if you’ve never heard the name “Constantine” used as a mild cuss word, if you’ve never heard the New Testament canon condemned as an imperial conspiracy one minute and then invoked against Augustine in the next, go ahead and watch these–you’ll see plenty of all of the above. If you’ve had an introductory Biblical Studies course, or even a decent Sunday school class, little in this video will strike you as new. And if you’re looking for intellectual complexity on questions of Bible interpretation, Church history, systematic theology, or any of the other theological sciences, go elsewhere. But if it’s a crash course in how to reject Midwestern and Southern evangelicalism you seek, come on in. Nothing here is much worse, in terms of sloppy thinking or faulty argument, than anything one can find on a dozen progressive-evangelical podcasts, but neither is it much better.
Overall, because I do have a fair bit of background in these matters, and because I’m interested in presenting a degree of complexity even to a Sunday-school-level group, I likely will not use these videos, and ultimately, at the steep price of two hundred fifty bucks, they strike me as a bad idea for church groups on tight budgets. Everything that I remember on the DVD’s is available for free on podcasts, so I cannot commend their purchase. What I will commend to folks is more affordable materials available now. For those leaning more liberal/progressive, Tripp Fuller does this work for far less cash. For those of a more conservative bent, the Theology Program from Credo House provides far more material for the same price range. I’ll go ahead and own up to this: my aversion has more to do with economics than with doctrinal disagreement; if there’s good, inexpensive material out there (and there is), I’m not going to recommend predictable, overpriced materials.
And so it goes.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.