Jesus: A Short Life by John Dickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a short, punchy, summary of what a large number of New Testament scholars and historians agree on regarding the historical Jesus. Although Dr. Dickson is a believing Christian and a pastor himself, he focuses the book on what we can know about Jesus from a purely historical perspective. Turns out we can establish quite a lot. Dickson’s main sparring partner in this project is Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is quite radical in rejecting large swaths of the New Testament as mythical. Spong is simply one among many of the never-ending stream of modern pundits and shock-scholars who try to re-invent Jesus every few years. Dickson counters with an array of scholarly opinions from various perspectives (not all are believers, and some are quite agnostic) to lay a foundation of historical bedrock for the life, mission, and aims of Jesus and his followers. The book is artfully bound and illustrated with paintings from many different historical eras, as well as pictures of archaeological sites and artifacts. Although now a decade old, this is still a valuable resource for anyone interested in the once-obscure Jew from Galilee who began a movement which has impacted the entire world.
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At Cary Christian School, I occasionally try to summarize the findings of New Testament scholars in a way that shows the relevance for studying Biblical Greek. Kenneth Bailey has done ground-breaking work in what he calls “Middle Eastern” Biblical interpretation. He argues that we need to read the Bible through Middle Eastern eyes if we are to truly understand it. His reading of the familiar story of the “Prodigal Son” in Luke 15 is especially helpful as we discuss the Bible with our Muslim friends.
Here’s the power-point presentation. But, don’t stop there–get the book for yourself!
I’m really enjoying Professor David Cook’s (Rice University) book, Understanding Jihad. Prof. Cook is clearly knowledgeable, objective, and seems quite fair in his treatment. Nevertheless, he criticizes others for not being as honest or fair with the source material of Islam. Cook presents extensive proof that militant jihad has been part of Islamic teaching and practice since the beginning.
“In conclusion, several important points need to be made about the ‘greater jihad’ [spiritual struggle]. The spiritual, internal jihad is the derivative form, and not the contrary. This is clear from the absence of any mention of the ‘greater jihad’ in the earliest hadith books on the subject of jihad (it is entirely absent from the canonical collections and appears only in the genre of zuhd, asceticism, and then in comparatively later collections). Nor does the ‘greater jihad’ find any mention in the later literature on jihad, except occasionally in the most perfunctory form. It is also apparent that anyone who studies the subject of jihad has to wonder about the focus placed upon the spiritual warfare among contemporary Muslim apologists. Continue reading “David Cook on Jihad”
John Newton’s letters continue to be a treasure trove of spiritual insight. “Letter XXVI” compares the rising of the sun to the gradual spiritual illumination in our lives, as the light of Christ shines more and more. He ends with this: “Hope then, my soul, against hope; though thy graces are faint and languid, he who planted them will water his own work, and not suffer them wholly to die. He can make a little one as a thousand; at his presence mountains sink into plains, streams gush out of the flinty rock, and the wilderness blossoms as the rose. He can pull down what sin builds us, and build up what sin pulls down; that which was impossible to us, is easy to him; and he has bid us expect seasons of refreshment from his presence. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
“The popularity of the Gospel of Thomas among Americans is another indication that there is indeed ‘the American religion’: creed-less, Orphic, enthusiastic, proto-gnostic, post-Christian. Unlike the canonical gospels, that of Judas Thomas the Twin spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus. No dogmas could be founded upon this sequence (if it is a sequence) of apothegms. If you turn to the Gospel of Thomas, you encounter a Jesus who is unsponsored and free. No one could be burned or even scorned in the name of this Jesus, and no one has been hurt in any way, except perhaps for those bigots, high church or low, who may have glanced at so permanently surprising a work.”
Bloom captures why the Jesus of Thomas is so alluring to post-moderns: “The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas calls us to knowledge and not to belief, for faith need not lead to wisdom; and this Jesus is a wisdom teacher, gnomic and wandering, rather than a proclaimer of finalities. You cannot be a minister of this gospel, nor found a church upon it. The Jesus who urges his followers to be passerby is a remarkably Whitmanian Jesus, and there is little in the Gospel of Thomas that would not have been accepted by Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman” (The Gospel of Thomas, 111-112).