A Picture of Jesus: a book review

David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards are three biblical scholars from  three different institutions (Houston Baptist University, Southwest Baptist University, and Palm Beach Atlantic Univerisity, respectively). They have previously collaborated on a book about the apostle Paul, Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (IVP Academic, 2007). They are back at it. Their new book from IVP Academic is Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ

Don’t let the academic publisher or their resumés scare you. This is an engaging and interesting and accessible read! I had fun with this book.  To me, this is really two books in one. Part I is a romp through the biblical images of Jesus, uncovering what is distinctive about the portrait of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts, John, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, in the non-Pauline epistles and Revelation. Part II examines extra-biblical images of Jesus. Capes, Reeves & Richards look at the Gnostic Jesus, the Muslim Jesus, the Historical, demythologized Jesus, the Mormon Jesus, the American Jesus and the Cinematic Jesus.  In each chapter, after exploring the distinctive portrait of Jesus in the Bible or culture, they ask, “What if this were the only Jesus?” The result is they showcase the important contribution of each Bible writers picture of Christ, and show how cultural depictions of Jesus, while sometimes illuminating, often obscure our perception of who the Jesus really is.

While there is some first-rate biblical theology and cultural analysis here, this is a completely practical and non-technical text about Jesus, appropriate for undergrads (or even a Christian high school). Part I is helpful because it reveals how the entire New Testament, all the books together, gives us our picture of who Jesus is. The Jesus of Mark appears on the scene, binding the strong man and fighting the religious establishment, but there is no mention of Jesus’ virgin birth, his post resurrection appearances, his great commission or ascension. Luke’s Jesus was more politicized, and didn’t even give a theological account of the atonement (71). Matthew’s Jesus is firmly connected with Israel’s God and has the most developed ethic. John’s Jesus is not of this world and focuses more on the after life than this life. “Christians who read too much of John’s Gospel and not enough of Matthew’s might talk abut eternal life but not about caring for the least of these” (86). Paul’s high Christology is almost devoid of biography (how Jesus lived). If the Priestly Jesus of Hebrews were our only Jesus we’d focus on purity, perfection and completion. The non-Pauline epistles are immersed in Jesus’ teaching but without the Gospels you wouldn’t know that the origins of John, Jude, Peter and James’ words are found in Christ’s teaching. The apocalyptic Jesus is the disquieting image of the warrior lamb and the glorified Christ. Each of these images enlarge our picture of Christ. Any image that is excluded from our portrait of Jesus would result in bias and incomplete vision.

What of  Jesus’ cultural images? Capes, Reeves and Richards focus on images of Jesus that have a great deal of cultural pull. They profile the esoteric gnositic Jesus, the localized prophet of Islam, the Post-Enlightenment historical Jesus, the American hero, and the movie star. They observe (writing as one voice):

Jesus outside the Bible can on occasion help us rediscover some aspect of Jesus that has been ignored or sidelined. More commonly, though, these nonbiblical images influence and color our biblical image. Understanding these images helps reveal ideas that need to be expunged from ‘my Jesus.’ While I found themes and emphases from the various biblical images of Jesus that needed to be reintroduced into my picture of Jesus, I also found other themes and emphases from nonbiblical images that needed to be extracted from my portrait of Jesus. both of these processes help me to rediscover Jesus. (261)

The disparity between cultural images of Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible is highlighted well throughout part II. Perhaps it is the ‘Cinematic Jesus’ which highlights how much a depiction of Jesus for a particular era says more about that culture and time than it does about the real Jesus (244-245).

This is a fun, thought-provoking book that deserves a wide readership beyond the classroom. I give it five stars

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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