Diana Butler Bass writes as someone who has been struggling, in good ways, with Jesus all her life.
This most talented of writers and speakers in the liberal mainline of the Christian tradition has known Jesus as friend, teacher, savior, lord, and way. She summarizes articulately how her understanding of each of these relationships has evolved.
We appreciated most of all the last chapter on “Presence.” This is where it all comes together and moves forward. Bass explains, “For years, I had just accepted the ideas of immanence and transcendence, as do most Christians, not even noticing how thoroughly the beautiful theological paradox had been completely subsumed into a structure of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy that makes the experience of immanence — of the in-the-gut Jesus — nearly impossible.” Her writing is very approachable, in part, because it is often combined with relatable memoir.
Jesus as “Presence” is then offered as a way forward for any Christian, in particular for the millions who feel as the novelist Anne Rice felt, in 2010, when she said, “I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.”
In the context of Jesus as Presence, Bass uses the phrase “bowels of knowing” to describe human perception of God inside them. Then she expands to other contemporary metaphors to describe this bowel-like experience of the Divine, such as body and motherhood, geological images of rock, and mystery.
Theologically, Bass calls all of this “the radical immanence of Jesus.” It is the figure of Jesus that she imagines inhabiting “our inmost parts,” whereas other Christians might use language about an infusion related to the Holy Spirit. Throughout the book, Bass remains steadfast with language of Jesus — about Jesus, describing Jesus, the historical Jesus, and the ongoing “work” of Jesus — in ways that remain distinctively Christian.
In this and other ways Freeing Jesus reminded us of books by Marcus Borg, now deceased, a member of our “Remembering Spiritual Masters Project.” Bass and Borg were friends, and she quotes him in Freeing Jesus several times.
She says that humility and listening are the most essential qualities in someone who wants to know this Jesus of Presence. This is an essential message for every follower, or would be follower, of Jesus today.