Posted by: rogermitchell | December 21, 2010

Not much Jesus!

At this time of year it’s not unusual to hear people lament that Christ gets left out of Christmas. If there’s one overall conclusion to my research of these five plus years its that Christ has been pretty uniformly left out of Christendom, let alone Christmas. That’s to say if by Christ we mean anything much to do with the Jesus of the gospels. The early church historian Eusebius that the first part of my work focuses on, had a view of Christ based almost exclusively on the Old Testament which he saw as entirely affirmative of the imperial order. His main account of Jesus’ earthly life is taken up with an apochryphal story of Jesus’ correspondence with the king of Edessa. By the twelfth century the gospel Jesus had so disppeared from view that the influential theologian Norman Anonymous, quite possibly an archbishop of York, wrote without irony that in some ways Tiberius Caesar was a better example of the Christ than Jesus of Nazareth! The Catholic theologian Henri de Lubacs has posited that an inversion took place around this time in which the corpus verum [true body of Christ] changed places with the corpus mysticum [mystical body ] so that the eucharist came to stand for the real Jesus. As a result his historical body and with it his earthly body the church that was intended to be like him, disappeared from view.

So it’s hardly surprising that some of the radical Christians who sensed that something was wrong and looked to their faith to change things often looked to the Old Testament for help rather than the gospels. I’ve been writing today about Gerard Winstanley the 17th century pacifist digger from Cobham who argued against private property from the Genesis fall but hardly drew on Jesus and his teaching! Other radicals of course have used the gospels, but not so much as to completely reconfigure God and church in terms of them. I suggest that the modern skepticism over the historicity of the gospels is not so much based on reason as the rejection of Christendom and its imperial representation of transcendence which is blamed for so much oppression and injustice.  As a result the claims for miraculous power seem to justify an unreasonable authority in moral more than rational terms and are therefore rejected. So it’s time to recover the kenotic, life laying down Jesus that the Christmas story so wonderfully introduces. He reveals a God whose home is emphatically not the monarch’s palace or the government building but among the homeless and the refugees. Whether we are celebrating him this Christmas with the friends and families who have been blessed by his life and kingdom, or taking time to represent him among the people he chose to be born among, let’s make sure that our lives count to bring about the political change he intended and see love overwhelm the unfair and unequal western domination system that the church’s misconception of Christ has left in its wake.



  1. Hey Roger. Wish I was in a position to really engage with you on recent posts, but feeling that this has to await the next phase of a particularly awkard stage. But I am tagging along and enjoying the ride immensely.

    I can do one little thing that might be helpful if you are not already aware. On Winstanley et al, the diggers and that social movement are the subject, or part of it, of a PhD being worked on or perhaps even completed by Dave Taylor in Cobham. Not sure if I have current contact details but some of our mutual connections in the area certainly will have.

  2. Thanks for this Chris. I have the helpful little booklet that David wrote around Christopher Hill’s visit. Are you referring to something subsequent to that? I rather think that Pioneer would have done well to reflect early on around their possible role as inheritors of the diggers’ grace.

    • What could we expect, Roger. David’s fascination might as well have been with train-spotting. History is so conveniently sliceable when you have agendas and no historical sense. But your comment sends a shiver. Been around here for forty odd years and never considered that there might have been a mantle awaiting adoption. Perhaps it explains why I struggle so hard with the middle-classness of the area and have such huge problems with the closedness of wealthy people in the churches. Even with much of the terrors that Dee and I have been through in the last year I have taken to asking some people not to pray for us. Especially when I feel so strongly that God is saying “Why are you asking me about this, I am asking you”

      But I am referring to something else. There should be a published PhD thesis around, unless my memory of what I heard on the grapevine is very wrong. If David has completed then he will certainly publish.

  3. I see the birth of Jesus as God’s supreme act of validating his material creation. In Jesus the material, the stuff of this earth, of us, of all species, is affirmed. Perhaps it was losing the historical, real and material Jesus that led us to reject creation and its care, choose to affirm greed through capitalism, and to come up with absurd theologies that endorse escape from our denial of the material such as the ‘rapture’. All I know is we had better figure out God’s approach to creation and the material world and get moving – things are rather desperate in that area at the moment. c.

  4. Hi Roger,

    I check in with your writing on about a weekly basis. Hope you and Sue have had a good Christmas season. I saw a reflection on the incarnation from Bono over at my new friend, Dave Harder’s blog.
    Bono keeps things earthy!


  5. Hi Roger,
    Glad to hear that you have been reading up on Winstanley. I haven’t published anything knew since the small booklet which it sounds as though you have. However, there have been some excelletn publications including the full works of Winstanley. My friend Dr Andrew Bradstock has just published a book on 17th radical Christians. On a more histsorical note, I woudl recoment “Brave Community. The Digger Movement in teh English Revolution” by another friend Dr John Gurney.
    My recently PhD was based on another Cobham character but from the 19th century. He was Vernon Lushington who rejected Christianty and took up Comte’s Positivism. I have been doing a lot of reserach into the Crisis of Faith in the 19th century ad have given papers on this both in the UK and the USA.
    It wouldbe good to meet and chat sometime.
    Best wishes,

    • Hey David. I just belatedly replied to Roger’s reply to me above. (Not noticing that you had responded) I don’t get to come here as often as I should like. Nice to hear from you and glad you and Roger are still in touch. Hope we can connect again sometime soon as well. But I don’t have your details any more. I’ll ask Ruth if she has them and will get in touch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: