Text & Truth: can we trust the New Testament?

A book review of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (Daniel Wallace, series editor).

Last week our son turned five, and simply judging by the gifts received, one would have to conclude the kid loves pirates, LEGO blocks, Star Wars and books. All of this is true; Dutch loves all things related to Yoda, pirates, and LEGO blocks. Further, multiplying the various interests together heightens his enjoyment of the subjects. A LEGO Star Wars set, a pirates books, and even a LEGO Star Wars book. If Dutch has heard a story before, you better not skip a single word as you read it to him the next time. He’ll make you back up the truck and re-read it.

Even for this young kid, precision and accuracy on words really matter. Especially on the subjects that really matter in life.

Same is true in Christian scholarship. Sadly, Christians of the conservative, Evangelical tribe have a poor reputation when it comes to precision and accuracy. Or, what I like to call care and thoughtfulness. Typical modern Christian are not known in broader culture for thoughtful engagement of life issues, for we can talk past one another a lot and embody more of a bumper-sticker theology than a humble orthodoxy and persuasive embodiment of truth. While we’re known for enthusiasm, it can seem a lot like rabble-rousing to some. Of course, you cannot please everyone, but being authentic goes a long way toward gaining credibility and a listening ear.

That’s why I get amped up when I see new books that are worth reading. Whether it’s the latest Tim Keller best-seller reaching the reading masses with solid theology, or some of the passionate and thoughtful. I find a renewed trend in “Christian” being much more than an adjective tossed to the front of religious products seeking a market. Really good Christian books are being published these days, so there’s becoming very little excuse for us not reading sound words that enrich the mind and awaken the soul. (Disclaimer: the book I am reviewing below has a considerable academic bent, and won’t appeal to everyone. That’s okay; sometimes it’s helpful to know that somebody is doing deep thinking and heavy mental lifting, and the contribution of this book will only help the tide of good scholarship flood the shores of culture.)

It’s a common notion that scholarly work lacks excitement, like how documentaries lack a plotline. Yet, that’s not entirely true, as evidenced not only by new persuasive documentaries like “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” as well as in the field of biblical scholarship. While all ‘new’ discoveries are actually ancient ones, there always is a story within the story. The particular field of textual criticism — finding, exploring and examining the real biblical text — is chalk full of twists and turns. How did monks and others preserve the New Testament text so well, even under persecution and adverse conditions? The story of how we got our Bible is only trumped by the crazy-awesome Story the Scripture unfolds itself. Continue reading

Worth a read: Your Jesus is Too Safe.

Originally posted on 10 August 2009 at deTheos.com.

Below are some of my thoughts after reading Your Jesus is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior. [Read the book interview with author Jared Wilson in the last post.]

It’s a great book, and may now be in my top 10 favorites. Seriously, I read many dead guys, and am constantly dabbling in a few books at a time. This one made me put down all others and dive in. There are only a couple other authors who can do that to me (one is my gifted writer wife).

What’s the purpose of this book? Wilson writes:

“to remind us, for the glory of God and the hope of the world, of the original message of the historical person Jesus Christ, who was, in fact, God in the flesh” (p. 15, introduction).

That’s because “to really know God, one must really know Jesus” (ibid.). Wilson had me in the introduction; I was hooked.

Diving into Your Jesus is Too Safe, I was challenged, excited, laughed often, got riled up at some of my jacked-up views, and came back thirsty for more of this Jesus. Wilson points past himself. He wants us to know and see Jesus! The thing is, we think we know enough about Jesus. But we only know enough to make us dangerous. And we each have “a Jesus” in mind when we hear His name. Is yours “ATM Jesus” or “Therapist Jesus” or “Hippie Jesus” or “get-out-of-hell-free-Jesus”? Perhaps you like “friendly legalist Jesus,” who gives you 5 easy steps to better finances, God’s way. Scrap all of those — and any others — and open up the Bible to get to know the Real Jesus, the God-Man who is the full revelation of what God desires us to know about Him now.

Somewhere along the way we Evangelicals fell in love with ourselves and made a plastic “Jesus” in our own image. Nevermind that He’s the self-proclaimed Image of God. We like Him to be like us, just a slob like one of us — but in a cleaned-up, respectable sort of way. Don’t get too comfortable with “your” Jesus.

As I mentioned, I can’t recommend this book enough. In fact, I bought copies for our youth volunteers, to go hand-in-hand with a series through the Sermon on the Mount that is all about Jesus. If you want to be challenged to see Jesus’ worth, words, works and ways, pick up this book, read it next to the Gospels, and get to work. You won’t be disappointed.

Wilson is a capable writer, and he’d be the first to admit that the path to getting published in non-fiction is quite arduous, if you don’t have a PhD (and thus no one will read it), or if you are not a celebrity pastor (in which case many would read it).

What’s in the book?

Your Jesus is Too Safe is comprised of twelve “portraits” of Jesus emerging from the Scriptures. It’s an accessible “mini-biblical theology,” tracing Jesus from Genesis to Revelation (cover-to-cover, through the ages) to see how He embodies these dozen paradigms. Sandwiched between and introduction and conclusion, here are the twelve chapters:

  1. Jesus the Promise
  2. Jesus the Prophet
  3. Jesus the Forgiver
  4. Jesus the Man
  5. Jesus the Shepherd
  6. Jesus the Judge
  7. Jesus the Redeemer
  8. Jesus the King
  9. Jesus the Sacrifice
  10. Jesus the Provision
  11. Jesus the Lord
  12. Jesus the Savior

The book may make the most sense to Christians, but I won’t hesitate to hand it to non-Christians.  If we silly believers are often stumbling blocks to reflecting the true Savior, perhaps this raw take from the Scriptures can illuminate what we darken, and clarify what we make fuzzy. Whether you think you know about Jesus, or you know very little, pick up this book and learn the old truth through a new encounter. Plus, at about ten bucks, it’s a sweet deal. Skip three coffees over the next couple of weeks and read this book to energize your day. A few of the chapters (1, 4, 8 esp.) are worth the price alone.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite excerpts from Your Jesus is Too Safe: Continue reading

Author interview: Jared Wilson on Your Jesus is Too Safe.

Originally posted on 10 August 2009 at deTheos.com.

A new book arrived a month or so ago [July 2009]: Your Jesus is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior by Jared C. Wilson (Kregel Publications). With an advance copy in hand, I was happy to participate in the Your Jesus is Too Safe Blog Tour. It’s a great book — read on! [Book review here.]

About the Author

Jared Wilson is a faithful husband and devoted father, plus the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. He blogs at The Gospel-Driven Church, and is on TwitterFacebook (become a fan of the book), and MySpace (why MySpace?). Anyway, he’s connected and has a bent for all things literary (more at The Thinklings, a group writing project) and is a top researcher with the Docent Group — more about Jared can be found on his site here.

My thoughts and a short review will follow in the next post (here).

Read on as Jared answers questions about Your Jesus is Too Safe and life and ministry.

Interview Questions with Jared Wilson

Jeff Patterson: It was hard to pick a favorite chapter—each one was somehow better than the previous—and almost equally difficult to choose a favorite footnote. Those are hilarious (e.g., p. 79, fn. 7, about asking telemarketers for their home phone numbers so you can call them at their home at your convenience; you do that too?). So, what’s @theBecky’s favorite chapter or footnote/anecdote?

Jared Wilson: Beck says her favorite chapter is Jesus the Provision. She’s an optimistic, hopeful, always-expecting-the-miracle person, though, and that chapter deals more with Jesus’ miracles then others do.

She says her favorite snarky footnote is in Chapter 6, footnote #3, related to Jeroboam getting his arm shrunk. It reads, “If you don’t think this is awesome, something is wrong with you.”

[Editor’s note: theBecky is obviously Jared’s wife Becky (or Beck, as he calls her).]

JP: You seem to assume the reader has “a Jesus” in mind, that is of course “too safe,” and needs to be outgrown. You’re real tough on the American Jesus as “ATM Jesus.” Do you think he’s the primary version you confront into in the south, the Bible Belt? (Other than perhaps “get-out-of-hell-free Jesus.”)

JW: I think the safe Jesus plaguing the Bible Belt is sort of a “friendly legalist” Jesus. I have long thought that most of our churches are dealing in legalism without even knowing it. We get around this, it sneaks in, because most of us think of legalism or Pharisaism as stuffy, traditional, judgmental, arrogant, etc. But legalism is just making the message of God one about doing things and not doing other things. No gospel. And that’s what we’re dealing with when our messages are about practical, relevant steps to victory, change, success, or better what-have-you. It’s casual and hip and happy and comes with a rock band and a speaker with a fauxhawk, but it’s still legalism. And consequently there’s lots of people who are starving for Jesus even as they think they’re getting closer to God through their behavior.

JP: Tell us a bit about the subtitle, “Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior.”

JW: Well, that’s one of those marketing things. I don’t even know if I came up with that. Was part of the titling process, I believe. But I like it. It speaks to both the consumeristic and the therapeutic that comes through in our modern alternative Jesuses.

JP: In the first paragraph of chapter 8, “Jesus is King,” you write, “His kingship is perhaps the primary thing we must know about Jesus, the primary way to see him.” Do you think our Jesus is too safe primarily because we see him as an add-on to our lives, and not as our lives—calling all the shots as King of All?

Continue reading