Receiving the Tradition: “Jesus & the Christian Community” at FPU

Receiving the Tradition: “Jesus & the Christian Community” at FPU

I teach a course that is older than I am. I don’t mean merely that the subject matter predates me, but that this particular course itself, with its title and its content, has been impacting Fresno Pacific University’s students since before I was born. That is a humbling thought indeed.

“Jesus and the Christian Community,” or JCC as it is affectionately known around campus, has been around in some form at Fresno Pacific since 1979. At that time, the course was a part of the general education curriculum that introduced students to history and civilizations. Even at that relatively early point in the institution’s history, my ancestors in the professoriate recognized that Jesus was central to what happens at FPU.

Since that time, JCC has continued to thrive. In 1989, former FPU President Edmund Janzen made revisions to the course to focus primarily on Jesus. Ever since, JCC has provided an opportunity for all students to encounter the challenging words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

The course allows students the opportunity to drink deeply from the biblical text and encounter the wild and challenging Messiah who up-ends all expectations for what the use of power should rightly be. This Jesus recommends non-violence in the face of attack (Matthew 5:38-48). He has no qualms about calling the leaders of his own religious tradition “snakes” (Matthew 12:34; 23:33). In short, he is the sort of unpredictable leader that one might hesitate to hire because of the PR nightmare he might create. Yet, identifying itself in the Fresno Pacific Idea as “Prophetic,” FPU has not shied away from introducing this Jesus to its students.

The move in 1989 to develop a course centered entirely around Jesus was and is unprecedented among institutions of higher education. While many colleges (including many Christian colleges) require students to take religion courses or even Bible survey courses, FPU is different. Deeply rooted in Anabaptist theology, FPU has historically recognized that the person of Jesus, both his life and his teachings, are central to the identity of this institution. That commitment to following Christ has implications for all facets of life, including the curriculum at FPU.

JCC has a rich history that I (and many others) have been blessed to receive. This reception of history reminds me of the words that the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (11:23, NRSV). These words mark the beginning of a passage that is now deeply familiar to those who have been around settings where traditional Eucharist liturgy is spoken before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul indicates to the Corinthians that both he and they are the recipients of a teaching that predates any of them. Yet, this teaching is so central to the faith that they share, that Paul seems to anticipate that its legacy will continue beyond that generation of early believers in Corinth.

This year, FPU celebrates its 75th anniversary. This is a time both to remember those who have gone before us in the faith as well as to anticipate those who will come after us. Like the Apostle Paul, we cannot possibly predict how our descendants at FPU will judge what we say and do today. However, as an institution that is founded on Christ, FPU has recognized since before I was born that the life and teachings of Jesus receive pride of place not “in word or speech” alone, but “in truth and action” (cf. 1 John 3:18) by affording pride of place to Jesus in the FPU curriculum through the JCC course.

I may be one of the younger instructors to have taught JCC throughout its long history here at FPU. However, I am deeply aware of stepping into a grand tradition that predates me and that will (hopefully) continue long after my own retirement. It is my prayer that in encountering the Jesus of the Gospels in JCC, students will find their own place not only in this institution’s 75-year history, but in the larger Christian community that was founded on Christ and has spanned all generations since.


Melanie A. Howard, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Program Director, Biblical & Theological Studies