Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Paul

What do I think of the book by Rodney Reeves, E. Randolph Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul. He’s a fascinating figure. Who is the man and what shaped him? What can we learn from him today? There are many fine books out there about Paul and many fine ones from a Christian perspective, but now we have an extremely thorough one that seems to hit Paul from all angles and the church owes Reeves, Richards, and Capes a debt of gratitude for this excellent gift. It is a book that is highly readable and with solid content. While it could be seen as a primer of sorts with further reading at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to study further, it could easily be seen as a reliable guide in itself and one who reads this will have an excellent understanding of the world of Paul.

The book also includes several sidebar statements where the authors ask about a claim “So what?” Students often want to know what difference that something that can be often thought to be a tangential point. Isn’t this just something that nerdy scholars would care about? What difference will it make in my own life. The authors want you to know what difference it does make. There also are “What’s More” sections. In these, the authors add in additional details and sometimes even post ideas that would be challenging to our modernistic ways of thinking and say “Maybe we should take Paul a little bit more seriously here.”

It is incredible how thorough this book is. I particularly enjoyed the first part with reading about the honor-shame culture. This is a favorite area of mine to study and I wish more people spoke about it and I’m encouraged to know that NT students who are beginning their studies will be learning about this fascinating area. In fact, there are a number of times in the book I was thinking an area had been left out. For instance, when it comes to the section on the writing of letters I knew I was getting to the end and was thinking “What would be really nice is if they had included something on how much it cost to write one of these letters.” What do you know? Right towards the end there’s a section on the cost of writing the letters.

The authors also spend time going through each book of Paul’s. Some of these are handled in sections, such as the Pastorals. Some of them have their own chapters, which is fitting due to the influence of these books. The student who comes to the text will have a greater knowledge of all of the epistles of Paul as a result. It rounds off with a look at Paul’s theology as well as an excellent look at how it is that Paul’s letters came to be collected and made into a canon. The final section is on Paul’s legacy. What difference has Paul made? How has he been seen in history? What does he have to say to our world today?

It’s hard to think that a book could be so thorough on the life of Paul and his work and impact, but indeed, it is. I absolutely stand behind this book and hope that it is put into the hands of students going into ministry. The student who reads this book will be better equipped to understand Paul the man, the works of Paul, and be able to even make a defense for the works of Paul today. Even better, he will be able to take his own personal holiness much more seriously and consider how Paul is to have an impact on his life today. Hopefully he’ll have the same focus that Paul had, that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

This is a must read book for all interested in Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

What are my thoughts on this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Everywhere you go, people are the same. Right? Oh there are some basic differences of course, but if you cut any of us, we bleed. Mankind really hasn’t changed that much in all the years we’ve been around. When we read Aristotle or Cicero or Moses, we are reading someone was pretty similar to us and had the exact same struggles we do. We can regularly see it in their own writings can’t we?

Or, maybe we don’t. We just think we do.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes (MSWWE from now on) is a book that helps to expose us to the fact that people are not like us. The authors, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien, show numerous examples of the way our culture misreads the Bible based on our Western presuppositions and that people in other cultures are quite different. This can be shown to be the case in Biblical times, but also in modern times as Richards has several examples in his book from his missionary service in Indonesia.

For instance, if you had an affair, would you feel guilty? Here in the West, you would. In Indonesia, there would be no guilt until everyone else said you did something wrong. What time does that church event start? Here, you could say “Mid-day” and most people would be there at Noon. There, you’d say “Mid-day” and most people would show up when it started to get hot. If you say “All people serving in the church must be eighteen”, here it’d be a strict rule. Over there, there would be exceptions.

Much of this seems foreign to our experience, and for good reason. It is. One of the greatest signs of this is our intense individualism where we think everything has to be about us. There is even a chapter in the book on how people take a passage like Jeremiah 29:11 and make it to be about God having a personal plan for them. Somehow, all those Israelites that died during the attack of Nebuchadnezzar missed that.

The authors also bring out important realities of the system that was around then and is still around in most countries today, such as the honor/shame system and the patron/client system. Consider the story of David and Bathsheba. That is a story we all learn something from, but when it is read through the lens of honor and shame, all of a sudden several new facets of the story show up that the Western reader would not notice.

What does this mean? It means that there’s further reason to drop this nonsense idea that so many have that all we need is to just have the Bible. Now of course, the Bible contains all that is necessary for faith and practice, but if you want to know all that it contains, you will have to study it well, and for many people, that is anathema, and is in fact part of the individualism that we have today. If God wants ME to get something out of the Bible, He will make it plain to ME.

When speaking about the patron/client model then, we actually make it seem like the problem is that God isn’t doing what He’s supposed to be doing. If an atheist wishes to discuss the problem of divine hiddenness, it’s always that God is hiding Himself, instead of realizing that maybe God has revealed Himself and we are the ones hiding from Him. Skeptics today make the most outlandish claims about what they think God is required to do, such as a cross on the moon or everyone having the same dream at the same time, not aware that all of these are actions that would require further explanation through the social context of each culture.

The ideas that could be embraced if we would but study are monumental. How much different will you approach a text like Romans 8:28 if you realize that God is your patron working all things for good. Now I do have a small disagreement with the authors. I do think God does work all things for individual good. The caveat I would add is that some of that might not happen until in what I call, the after-death. Many people will die with suffering on them that I think God will redeem in eternity. I do agree with their collectivist approach and would contend that all those God will work the good for are Israel. The true Israel is really Jesus Christ and all who are “in Him” are in Israel. (I would even contend at this point that Romans could be about identifying who Israel is.)

I am not really including quotes on this because I find quotes to be inadequate for this one. There are such large pieces of thought that you need the whole context to see them all. I think the reader not familiar with the social context will learn something from every chapter, and I think many of us who already are will have our insights greatly expanded by reading this book.

The authors also do not resolve many of the difficulties. They present the scenario and they leave it to you and I to work out the difficulties in our own reading of Scripture and try to learn to read with new eyes. The authors also give points to ponder at the end to show how we can avoid doing what we’ve been doing. What questions can we start bringing to the text that will help us understand it?

Also, the authors do present points of application for us to consider, which can also make this book an excellent choice for small groups at churches. (All churches could be greatly benefited by having a small group that is based around this book.) The authors don’t want to make this just a detached scholarly work, but they want it to be one that will engage us and force us to come to the text and see if we have been projecting our own culture on to it.

Many works in this field have been extremely scholarly, and I applaud those, but I am thankful now that when someone asks me one book I can recommend on the topic, I will not have to hesitate. MSWWE is on the top of the list!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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