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sarah harris: four gospels – one jesus (but not in every sermon please!)

As I write this post, I am head-down writing my PhD which considers Jesus as the Davidic shepherd-king in the Gospel of Luke. I seem to be living and breathing Luke’s thoughts, stories and theology. His portrayal of Jesus fascinates me. I find myself talking about the Lukan Jesus wherever I am. But I don’t just talk about him, I talk to him, I journey with him. I am a Lukan evangelist, talking to Christian and non-Christian alike about this life-giving Jesus. It is as if I have caught a virus and I can’t help but spread it. Every now and again my husband Craig says quietly, ’64’ to me (signifying there are other biblical books) but even this does not deter me.

As a result, whenever I preach I try to preach from Luke’s writings and share something of what I am learning. I find myself saying, “For Luke … the Lukan Jesus says … from Luke’s perspective…” One day in conversation over lunch at Laidlaw College, a group of us were theologising about some aspect of life when I popped up with, “The Lukan Jesus would …”, to which someone replied, “What would the Jesus-Jesus say?”

This got me thinking about the need (or not) for a biblical theology in every sermon. What is the place for making a clear window into the text from one writer’s perspective in our weekly preaching? Is it helpful, or counter-productive, to highlight one lens with which to view Jesus? Does this confuse people or does it make Jesus too narrow or linear? Alternatively, does this strengthen the church by helping people realise that there are different perspectives of Jesus and it can be authentic to walk into the one where the Spirit breathes life for you? Must we theologise every sermon to balance out people’s theological radar? Isn’t there a place for being captured with a portrayal of Jesus in which we find resonance and life? Isn’t it ok to sit there for a while and not be hurried to move on? Isn’t it OK to linger in one place? This is what PhD study has gifted me: the chance to sit with the Lukan Jesus and really get to know him.

Craig and I are moving to Wellington at the end of the year to start work as University Chaplains at Victoria University. We are excited to work with students who are in the process of learning. But apparently 80% of students with a Christian faith will walk away from God in their first year at University. A horrifying statistic! Now we all know the church needs to be helping people think theologically through life – but I am concerned that statistics like these say we are not doing a very good job. And I wonder how we can grow people deeper, wider and more fully into the God of the scriptures.

I wonder if preaching that lingers longer in one place may help. I wonder, over time, if we introduce our congregations in depth to one writer’s theology, they may discover the tools to find Jesus for themselves in the midst of life. After all, if we accept the authority of scripture, then surely Luke’s lens on its own, for example, is sound. Even though he has his own particular themes and views, surely they are still God-breathed. My experience is that if we dig deeper and deeper in one place we find in time that our roots have spread out deeply and widely and we see the bigger picture more fully.

What do you think?

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Sarah Harris is a wife, mum, Anglican Priest and Otago doctoral student working in the Gospel of Luke and telling the salvation story of Zacchaeus.


  1. Sean says:

    Fantastic! I’ve often been toying with the idea lately that at times the entire corpus of 66 books can be distracting and so we (I) try and race through it and try and learn everything. But then I just decided to stop one and day and rather spend three to six months just reading one letter/book, and just see what happens. I have found this far more rewarding than just “reading” through for the sake of reading. I am now stopping to listen, and rereading with new insights, thoughts and corrections to previous assumptions.

    Love this idea of lingering, and think it is very beneficial. Thanks!

  2. Dirk Jongkind says:

    The comment you cited, ‘What would the Jesus Jesus say?’ made me chuckle, because it nails down how many of the people listening to our sermons hear us when we talk about the ‘Lucan Jesus’. In using such short-cut terminology we might give a wrong impression, in that Luke’s Gospel creates its own confined, literary world, in which the relation to the Jesus of flesh and blood has become irrelevant. If Luke’s Gospel is reduced to simply a story (albeit a very good one) or a work of literature (which it is, among many things), it will turn into one of the many narratives and inspirational tales that are out there.

    Now I know that you don’t want to go there, but there is something inherent in the terminology of ‘Lucan Jesus’ that will drive the reader (and perhaps even ultimately the speaker) into this direction. There is an in-built presupposition in this use of language that I would be hesitant to confirm; it reduces the complexity a little too much and therefore is likely to be misheard.

    All this does not take away anything from what you said. It is of tremendous worth to see the richness of Jesus as brought out by Luke or any of the others and take them serious as evangelists in their own right. We have to learn to dwell in a particular book since we confess that Jesus as portrayed by the four (and not one) evangelists is a conscious and deliberate part of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ. As you say, we need to spend more time within a particular text, but at the same time we need to put a lot of effort into finding the right language that does truly justice to the multi-faceted portrayal of the ‘Jesus-Jesus’.

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