A few days ago I received a Christmas card in the post whose envelope, in one corner, featured an image of the baby Jesus in the manger, with Mary and Joseph, in the stable in Bethlehem. It was surrounded by the words — part plea, and part admonishment — 'Keep Christ in Christmas'.
With the feast day almost upon us, it prompts many to wonder about the origins of Christianity, and the relevance of Christian faith to modern society. The man featured in this interview has thought deeply about these questions, and studying them has been his life's work.
Greg Jenks is one of the leading progressive Christian scholars in Australia. The agenda of Christian progressives is to bring their religion into line with the latest scholarship in all disciplines, and discard any trappings of their faith that are no longer relevant in the contemporary world.
Jenks is a biblical scholar, and this interview was recorded at a conference for religious progressives called 'Common Dreams' held at St Kilda Town Hall in Melbourne earlier this year. His talk was entitled 'Imagining a future for the Bible in tomorrow's Churches and a post-Christian world'.
Jenks was ordained an Anglican priest in 1979, and has served in a number of parish and educational ministries, including colleges and universities in Australia and the Middle East. He now lectures in Biblical Studies, and is Academic Dean at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane, one of the member colleges of Charles Sturt University's School of Theology.
There are many facets to his research and academic interests. His PhD was on the origins and early development of the Antichrist myth, and his current research focuses on early Christianity and Judaism around the time of Christ.
He is co-director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel, an archaeological site about two kilometres from the north-eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida is one of the most frequently mentioned towns in the New Testament, but its location was lost until 1987 when it was discovered by Israeli archaeologist, Dr Rami Arav.
At least three of Jesus' disciples, Peter, Andrew and Philip, were said to be born there. And, according to the Gospels, Jesus performed some of his most important miracles at Bethsaida, including the feeding of the multitudes and healing the blind man, and from shores nearby he was seen to be walking on the Sea of Galilee.
From 1999–2001 Jenks served as Associate Director of the Westar Institute, and is now a fellow of one of its off-shoots, the Jesus Seminar. These are both based in the USA, and provide a global forum for prominent progressive Christian scholars from around the world.
He is one of the founders of the FaithFutures Foundation whose aim is to make the latest Christian scholarship available to the grassroots to facilitate new expressions of Christian faith.
As part of this he has developed the religious wiki the Jesus Database. One of its services that he oversees is the online publication of a weekly lectionary commentary.
Jenks is much in demand as a speaker, and has written many research papers and book chapters. In early 2011 he is due to publish his book, The Once and Future Bible: An Introduction to the Bible for Religious Progressives.
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Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.