Novelist and essayist Reynolds Price describes himself as an “outlaw Christian,” a believer who accepts the assertions of the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds and periodically receives holy communion, but does not associate himself with any organized church. Over the years he has written several books touching on aspects of his spiritual pilgrimage, including what he regards as a miraculous healing from spinal cancer (although his treatment left him paralyzed).
Price is a careful student of the Bible, broadly familiar with modern biblical scholarship but impatient with the skepticism of many of its practitioners. “They’re uniquely prone,” he writes, “—once they’ve earned their scholarly credentials—to shoot themselves in the foot when confronted with evidence that would satisfy almost any other historian of ancient life.” At the center of this resistance to plain evidence, in Price’s view, is the scholars’ “reluctance to acknowledge that the return of Jesus from the dead, whether in some still inexplicable corporeal form or a repeated visionary one, is a firmly attested fact.”
It is with the Resurrected One that Reynolds Price takes his stand in A Serious Way of Wondering, a remarkable essay into a different kind of biblical investigation. Moving out from the widely practiced moral choice system of asking “What would Jesus do?,” Price asks himself “What would Jesus teach?” on three issues on which the Jesus of the gospels is silent: homosexuality, suicide, and the role of women in society. The technique Price adopts, novelist that he is, is to imagine parabolic stories. The first two recount resurrection appearances of Jesus to Judas, whom Price imagines as nineteen-year-old homosexual motivated to betrayal in part by his inability to draw Jesus into a physical relationship with him. (While there is no biblical report of a resurrection appearance to Judas, Price believes one is suggested by Paul’s mention [1 Corinthians 15:5] that the risen Jesus appeared “first to Cephas, then to the twelve,” this at a time prior to Judas’s death and replacement.) The third is an expansion of the account in John 7:53–8:11 of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.
The three stories, or “speculations,” Price says came to him swiftly with messages he found in some ways surprising. Specifically, he notes, that in the face of his own homosexuality he was startled that the first story “offers no solution to the old dilemma of homosexual proclivity.” What it does offer, as do its two companions, is a vivid and persuasive restatement of a living Jesus’s power in loving personal encounter. I will not soon forget Price’s imagining that as the risen Jesus vanished from the cramped cave where Judas was hiding, he left behind him the odor of fresh sage.
As he moves his short book toward conclusion, Price sums up:
What God left to attentive creatures, when the risen Jesus vanished at the end of forty days, was an enormous but remarkably trim inheritance—the three sayings examined above (Love your neighbor as yourself, Feed my sheep, Do not resist an evil person): the command to Love God is implicit in each of those three … Trim as the legacy is then—and perhaps no other teacher can be contained in such a slender parcel—it requires tireless attention from anyone claiming to be its serious student.
This from a man who does not go to church. Those of us who do, who labor to support and improve the preparation of those who feed the sheep, take note.
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