John P. Meier, «The Present State of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain», Vol. 80 (1999) 459-487
Despite the questionable method and positions of the Jesus Seminar, the third quest for the historical Jesus has resulted in seven notable gains as compared with the old quests. (1) The third quest has an ecumenical and international character. (2) It clarifies the question of reliable sources. (3) It presents a more accurate picture of first-century Judaism. (4) It employs new insights from archaeology, philology, and sociology. (5) It clarifies the application of criteria of historicity. (6) It gives proper attention to the miracle tradition. (7) It takes the Jewishness of Jesus with utter seriousness.
Indeed, in the face of regularly recurring announcements of the demise of the historical-critical method, it should be pointed out that it is precisely historical criticism that has made this dialogue possible across confessional borders by creating a level playing field of research with agreed-upon rules for the procedures of historical inquiry that all can share. It is, after all, historical-critical research that enables scholars of vastly different backgrounds and commitments to propose, test, and adjudicate claims in the public arena by commonly accepted criteria. In fact, it is this maturing, rather than waning, of historical-critical research that has enabled scholars like Sanders to be much more careful than their predecessors about distinguishing strictly historical claims, verifiable by any disinterested practitioner of the academic discipline of history, from theological claims that may be perfectly true but that are known and held by faith.
It is only in the light of this rigorous application of historical standards that one comes to see what was wrong with so much of the first and second quests. All too often, the first and second quests were theological projects masquerading as historical projects. Now, there is nothing wrong with a historically informed theology or christology; indeed, they are to be welcomed and fostered. But a christology that seeks to profit from historical research into Jesus is not the same thing and must be carefully distinguished from a purely empirical, historical quest for Jesus that prescinds from or brackets what is known by faith. This is not to betray faith. It is only to recognize and honor the proper academic distinctions that have created separate departments of theology and history at major universities, each with its own proper scope, sources, methods, and criteria of validation. It is this clarification of distinct methods and goals that has made the present-day inter-faith collaboration possible. Just as the historical Jesus should not have been used as a stalking-horse for nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theology in Germany, so it should not be used today as a stalking-horse for a particular philosophy of language, a particular brand of liberation or feminist theology, or indeed one particular school of late twentieth-century Catholic theology or practice. Let the historical Jesus be a truly and solely historical reconstruction, with all the lacunae and truncations of the total reality that a purely historical inquiry into a marginal figure of ancient history will inevitably involve. After the purely historical project is finished, there will be more than enough time