Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

From the title, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, the reader would expect a healthy historical skepticism about what one can know about the historical Jesus. Yet the contribution of Strauss to the study of the Gospels was that behind the words, there exists Jesus the Messiah. In his introduction, Strauss announced to the reader that no matter what the outcome of his critical examination, the significance of Jesus’ life would remain inviolate—a claim not accepted by his contemporaries.

In his conclusion, Strauss demonstrated that he was very uncomfortable with the various rationalist descriptions of Jesus as merely a hero or a great teacher or the exemplary moral leader. Likewise, he was to reject his own teacher Schleiermacher’s description of Jesus as a man possessing the highest God-consciousness. These were far from the orthodox confession of Jesus as true God and true man. Yet Strauss was not satisfied with the supernatural explanations of the incarnation.

The key to Christology for Strauss was in the nature of God. Strauss preferred to see God as the impersonal spirit manifested in the world and dwelling in humankind rather than as the transcendent creator figure. Christology then is not about a single individual, Jesus of Nazareth, but a universal idea. The divine spirit manifesting itself in Jesus also manifests itself in all humanity, negating the material and sensual side and freeing the spirit for a higher life. What happens in Jesus is not supernatural but natural. What the Gospels proclaim in Jesus, according to Strauss, is not unique but that which occurs in all humankind.