In many ways I am of the mind that this book probably did not need to be written. It is not that I do not think that we pay enough attention to Christ. But that I am not sure that another book about Christ and the problem of not paying attention to Christ really will change many minds and hearts. The authors directly challenge me theologically at the beginning of the book. And around the middle of the book there is a section on the narcissism of most Christianity. They cite the top 100 Christian books in 2000, just 6 were about the bible, 4 were about Jesus, and 3 about Evangelism. By their count, about half were about family and parenting and most of the rest were basically self-help. They charge that we have made Christianity about “self discovery rather than God discovery.” I honestly do not disagree with their point, rather I am not sure that thinking about how be be Christian as a parent, or as a spouse, etc., is not what Jesus wants us to do. (And my guess is that other people could categorize the books differently.)
Sweet and Viola do not like the question, “What would Jesus do (WWJD)? Because too often when people ask that they are really asking what would the Galilean man that lived 2000 years ago do. The authors instead suggest that instead we should be asking, what would Jesus have us do, because he has placed us here and now as his personal representative. The fear of the authors about the WWJD question is that the WWJD Jesus becomes a cause driven Jesus, a single dimension Jesus that neither reflects Jesus’ humanity and all the complexity that is reflected in Jesus’ humanity, or Jesus’ divinity and all the wisdom and holiness that is reflected in Jesus as God.
Another idea, that is probably more controversial, is about the greatness of Christ. They deal with it in a particular way. Instead of directly calling it “truth”, they talk about Christ as the “quintessential human”. Jesus allows us to be more well rounded human beings. We are not strait-jacketed into one way of being human, but because of Christ’s fullness (completeness) in his humanity we can become more by being the individuals that we were created to be. And because Christ has an enormous range (or reach) in his humanness, Christ “allows one person to be a Calvinist while allowing another to be an Armenian.” They sidestep a bit by saying most Armenians “pray like Calvinists” and most Calvinists “live like Armenians”.
In the end, I appreciate the heart. There are a lot of good quotes like, “The best we can do is change the world, only Jesus can save the world.” And (this is a paraphrase) “Illusionary religious says fear not trust in God and he will see that none of the things that you fear will happen to you, but real religion says fear not the things you fear are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”
In spite of some really good quotes, the book as a whole felt pedantic. It was as if the authors were telling us readers we believe wrong and as proof we authors are going to take scripture slightly out of context and take a lot of small social events to show a large theological deficit (a correlation not causation problem.) For the most part I agree with the authors intent. I think we need to spend more time focusing on Jesus. The section on justice and mercy and on social justice was excellent. But it felt like I was being beaten by the truth, not encouraged and edified by it.
Jeff Rhodes has an extremely positive review over at Englewood Review of Books (a great site if you want in depth reviews.) Here is the first sentence, “Frank Viola and Len Sweet have combined their writing prowess to form one of the most powerful pieces of Christian literature of our generation” Just goes on from there.
Tom Hypes has a much less positive review.
Disclosure: christianaudio.com provided me with a free audio copy of the book with the understanding that I would review the book on this blog and their site. A positive review was not required or expected.