Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Book Review, @ivpacademic’s “Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ”

I am left to wonder, because of the proposed premise of this book, if we aren’t left with a more hidden Jesus than before. The second half of the book makes the book worthwhile. It examines the Jesuses of different religions, including the Gnostic, Muslim and American (yes, I did call “American” a religion). In this, the authors (while presenting an evangelical outlook) tackle what Christianity would be if, say, the Mormon Jesus of Joseph Smith, was the dominant Jesus. This “Jesus Outside the Bible” should be expanded more, giving special attention to various other Jesus projects (including the Quest for the Historical Jesus and this book) and how such a Jesus may actually differ from the biblical accounts. In the end, however, this second half of the book is where the premise fulfills itself. If Rediscovering Jesus was only this second half, this book would merit five stars.

But it isn’t.

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected J...

Latter-day Saints believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Christus Statue in the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather, the first half of the book leaves me troubled given their often over-Southern Baptist and too-simplistic outlook. The authors, David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards, make it clear that they understand the New Testament presents a Jesus of many layers and that “others reinterpret Jesus”  but they fail to see how they do so. For instance, they seem to think that had we only the Pauline Jesus (74-88) we would be missing Christian ethics and so on. I am left to wonder what sort of Marconite sheol this is, given that St. Paul (and Jesus before him) pulled directly from the Old Testament to form Christian ethics. Yes, the point must be made that the Jesus of Christian Tradition is in fact one built by the entire canon of the New Testament (and the Old), but it seems they have gone far — removing the role Tradition has played in not only laying the cake that is Jesus, but in providing the icing.

The book is well written, suitable for small group study, with plenty of asides to further the conversation. However, it lacks fulfilling its ultimate premise. What biblical introduction is this? Scripture was never meant to be one book, which is why we have Mark spawning Matthew, and so on. The claim that Apostolic Succession would have been lost without Mark is a sad one, given that Apostolic Succession is one of the tools shaping the Canon. But Mark drew from Paul and required that the readers knew of Paul’s writings. Is this really biblical, given that examination of a New Testament book is examined not with a critical eye, but a confessing (and an evangelical one at that?) eye? Is it really religious, when the only other comparative religious examination is between the Baptist seminary’s view of the Christian Jesus and Gnosticism, Mormon, and Islamic? Why not the historical critical scholar’s view of Jesus, the Catholic’s view of Jesus, and the Unitarian?

This book isn’t a complete failure, but my initial excitement quickly faded. I hope that readers do not take the Jesus presented in the first half and suppose that this Jesus is the only layered Jesus for Christians.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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