Friday, December 21, 2018

Looking for Jesus in Greg Sheridan's Defence of Christianity

I've written a response to Greg Sheridan's God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times. Sheridan is the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper. He is also Catholic and in recent times has increasingly associated himself with the defence of Christianity in the public domain.

The book has its strengths. He provides some reasons to push back against contemporary naturalist assumptions of much secular thought. He reminds readers of the West's Christian heritage. He challenges church leaders to accept Christianity's minority status and stop looking back to more comfortable times. But it also has one major weakness: the account of Jesus. This is what I focus on. Here's a short extract from my response:

In the specific engagement with beliefs about Jesus’ divine status, Sheridan is particularly concerned to resist claims that would reduce Jesus to a mere moral teacher devoid of any ‘transcendent’ status. This resistance to the idea of Jesus as a moral teacher is based, in part, on Sheridan’s interpretation of Jesus’ Beatitudes. They are presented as Jesus’ summons to his followers to live in a particular way. Whilst acknowledging that if more people lived according to the Beatitudes, the world would be more just, Sheridan nevertheless insists that the beatitudes are only an “indirect call for justice.” They point instead to an “infinitely more transcendent justice.” Indeed, he makes the bold declaration that the justice of the beatitudes “doesn’t include any political content at all.”  
Now, even if the intent of this remark is to demarcate Jesus from contemporary notions of partisan politics, or even from a particular political programme, this is a most surprising and outright odd claim. For the moment you deny the ‘political’ you deny the social and relational – and to deny those in name of defending the New Testament witness to Jesus is simply untenable. More tellingly, Jesus wasn’t crucified on a cross of the Roman Empire because he’d been talking about the transcendent.
The full article is available here on the ABC Religion and Ethics website.