"Christianity at its best is not about spiritual perfection, but whether my neighbor has enough to eat."
David Fredrickson's approach to the New Testament is theological. "I try to get students to read the texts as giving information about God," he says. "The doctrine of God is probably the doctrine that is most unreflected upon and unchallenged."
Western Christians, says Fredrickson, tend to read the New Testament through the lens of Greek philosophical tradition, instead of with the understanding of early Christianity. Statements about God's nature, such as "God is one," or "God is indivisible," reflect Greek tradition, and prevent us from getting to the heart of the matter - the doctrine of the Trinity.
This Greek overlay means that the history of theology is often seen as a battle between Platonic and Aristotelian thought - God as the "absolute self" versus God as the "unmoved mover." But according to Fredrickson, that dichotomy is beside the point. "The New Testament shows Jesus making a difference in God's life," he says. "God and Jesus are a community of persons. And through the Spirit, we participate in that community."
Our participation comes through love of neighbor. "Christianity at its best is not about spiritual perfection, but whether my neighbor has enough to eat," Fredrickson says.
What difference does all this make for the man or woman in the pew? According to Fredrickson, this interpretation of the New Testament provides the theological justification for taking congregations seriously. "Because just as Jesus Christ changes God, congregations are changed by members, and members by each other," he says. That's why Fredrickson wrote a doctoral dissertation on free speech in Paul's letters and congregations and why he spends three out of four Sunday mornings teaching at adult forums in local parishes. "Ideas are more real when we think about them with others," he says. "I like scholarly ideas that can be worked through with people in the congregation."
Fredrickson is a graduate of Carleton College, received and M.Div. from Luther Seminary and later earned three degrees from Yale University--both the master of arts and master of philosophy degrees, as well as a Ph.D. in religious studies.