All I can say is argh. Argh argh argh argh argh.
If there's one thing that cheeses me off, it's the "historical Jesus" meme, particularly of the "great teacher but not God/great teacher but not supernatural" bent. In a way, I find it more bothersome than the "didn't exist at all" line of thinking, and here's why: The whole idea is that man cannot achieve a state of grace by his own efforts, yeah? So if you do away with the belief in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, where does that leave you?
The gentleman profiled in the linked article, one John Dominic Crossan, repeats the oft-sounded claim he wants to make Jesus more "accessible". Basically, he's doing away with all that troublesome stuff about absolute sin and salvation. Why not focus on the more, I dunno, realistic applications of Jesus' teachings? Break that down and what he really means by "accessible" is "easy".
Nothing about following Jesus is supposed to be "easy".
Following Christ means admitting, in the deepest, darkest, most hidden part of yourself, that you can't save yourself on your own. It means giving up all ideas of ever being adequate on your own merits. It means letting go of ever being good enough, of ever being in charge of your ultimate destiny. It means giving up your right to yourself. That is the hardest thing a human being can ever, ever do. Anyone who thinks it would be easy is fooling himself, full stop.
The second step in the process, after admitting that you can't make yourself acceptable, is to accept the idea that God already did it for you, and did so through the death and resurrection of Jesus as described in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.* There is no other way around it. "Being a good person" simply will not cut it.**
Once that's over with, though, the rest is gravy. Not easy gravy -- it's definitely a life-long process that requires rethinking everything you ever knew about everything -- but gravy nonetheless. That's what sets Christianity, at its core, apart from other religion, which is why I was chewing the walls at the beginning of this post. Either you try to make it on your own merits, or you admit that you can't -- there is no in-between. Claiming salvation via "Oh, Jesus had some good points, didn't he" simply will not cut it. That's not Christianity. That's wine that's been turned into water.
On a similar note, for a man who claims to love the Bible, Crossan seems to have missed the "God or madman" lecture when he was in school. Either Jesus was the Son of God, or he wasn't -- and if he wasn't, he was either a fantastic liar or completely off his gourd. Given that his core followers died horrible, screaming and/or lonely deaths without ever recanting, the latter two options seem highly unlikely. For someone who wants to get down to "reality" in religion, Crossan has to ignore an awful lot of questions to reach that point. Handwaving of that magnitude has no place in serious scholarship, although how much serious scholarship truly exists in the post-modern marketplace is a subject for another day. But my main point remains that to paint Jesus as "a good teacher" or "a great man" is to completely miss the point of the whole endeavor.
This universe does, in fact, function in black and white. They're called "hard truths" for a reason. Watering them down to make them more palatable and easier to swallow is like cooking all the vitamins out of vegetables to make them taste better. If you want to make something more accessible, you make it easier to sign up for the entrance exam. You don't dumb down the choices people have to make once they start the test. That does no one any favors.
*I absolutely believe in the historical veracity of these documents. Short version: Acts predates Paul's execution ca. 62 AD; Acts is Luke, part II; Luke and Matthew borrow heavily from Mark, with all three sharing text that points to an even earlier lost document; ergo, at least three of the four gospels were written within 30 years of the events depicted. Luke, in particular, makes a point of having sought out eyewitnesses. John, meanwhile, was written by the apostle himself. QED.
**What about people who have never heard the gospel? Frankly, like everything else, that's between them and whatever understanding of God they have. (And I don't mean that all religions are the same, either, because they're not. Again, it's a topic that deserves its own post.)