Book Plunge: Jesus Behaving Badly

What do I think of Mark Strauss’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Nearly everyone likes Jesus. Two billion people around the world proclaim Him to be Lord and God and Messiah. Muslims will say that He was born of a virgin, avoided death, lived a sinless life, and did miracles. Many atheists would even say that while they don’t believe miraculous stories told about Jesus, that they can like many of His ethics. Indeed many people do like Jesus, but He is not without His critics. After all, Jesus got Himself crucified and you don’t get crucified by being the warm and fuzzy Mr. Rogers figure. Some people thought Jesus was enough of a problem in the first century that He should be nailed to a cross. Today, Jesus still has His critics.

After all, did you hear about the time that Jesus drowned a whole herd of innocent pigs? What about cursing that fig tree, and it wasn’t even the season for figs? Don’t you know that Jesus said that if you are to follow Him you must hate your family? How extreme is that? Jesus also called a Gentile woman a dog one time. How can it be that Jesus could do something like that? Jesus could have also been a revolutionary plotting the overthrow of Rome. He said He came not to bring peace but a sword and He came to bring fire to the Earth and how He wished it was already kindled!

Maybe that Sunday School image of Jesus is even more off the mark than we realize…

Mark Strauss has written a wonderful and very readable book to help answer the questions that will come up about Jesus and as a frequent denizen of online discussions, they will indeed come up. The questions brought up in this book are the ones that are asked in the world of the internet and this will be a helpful addition to someone’s life and it is in fact quite humorous at times. There were a couple of passages that I came across that I even read to my wife because I delighted in them so much.

Let’s get the positives here first. Strauss has done a lot of homework and I think most of the major objections have been covered about the character of Jesus. I was pleased with some of his insights such as that when Jesus was challenged on His authority that the point of the challenge was to show that if the leaders could not identify a true prophet, by what grounds could they say that Jesus was not a true prophet? I also liked that in the story of the Prodigal it was pointed out that the older brother said “This son of yours.” He couldn’t even bring himself to say “my brother.” (I make the same point about how the lawyer could not bring himself to say “The Samaritan” in the story of the Good Samaritan but had to say “The one who showed mercy.” I am stunned I never noticed the same in the story of the Prodigal.)

For some areas of improvement, I wish more had been said about the honor-shame motif found in the ancient near eastern world and much of the world still today. For instance, on page 45 Jesus is said to be put to death for sheep stealing, but it is much more than that. Jesus was challenging the honor of the Pharisees and winning every time. We have in fact then another story of Saul and David. Saul wanted to kill David to protect his own honor. The Pharisees wanted to have Jesus put to death because they were losing their honor to him. What better way to reclaim it than to give a shameful death to Jesus?

Another area I disagreed with was on page 85 where the rich young man talks to Jesus and calls Him good. Strauss argues that Jesus is saying by comparison, no human being is good. By that kind of argument, we would be having to say that Jesus is not good which is problematic. I think a better answer would be that Jesus deflected a compliment like He always does because to accept a compliment puts one in a relationship where they are obligated to be in debt to the person. Jesus instead deflects the compliment to God and in fact tests the young man saying “You say I am good. You know what? God is the one who is good. What kind of level are you putting me on? Are you ready for that kind of commitment?”

Of course, these aren’t large issues and will not detract from the book overall. If you want to get a copy, and I recommend you do, you can get one from my Amazon store here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

addendum: I wish to state that I did receive this copy free from IVP for the purposes of review.

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