JESUS NOW AND THENWritten by Richard Burridge and Graham Gould Reviewed By Gordon Campbell
This book about Jesus is intended for thinking people inside and outside the churches. In this reviewer’s judgement it is a fine example of how to connect with readers, giving clear and precise information that is informed by judicious scholarship yet carefully distilled and presented non-technically for general consumption. The book is an adaptation of video and audio material from a series of nine undergraduate lectures delivered as part of the Associateship of King’s College (London) programme. The aim of the lectures was to help students of all disciplines and every or no faith to look back to the birth, life, death and influence of Jesus of Nazareth then (i.e., when the NT documents were written and during the first centuries of the Christian Church), and also to consider his impact now, two millennia later than the events.
The two lecturers and co-authors are specialists respectively in Jesus and the Gospels and in early Christian doctrines and worship. The book accordingly has two parts: a general introduction to the issues is followed by four chapters devoted to Jesus in the NT and a further three to Jesus in the Early Church (supplemented by a fourth, concluding chapter which rapidly surveys and evaluates modern views of Jesus). A short epilogue invites the reader to consider the significance of what has just been read. The lively approach taken by the authors could perhaps be described as sensible, largely uncontroversial and theologically conservative: Scripture is handled respectfully and the develop-ment of Christian thought about Jesus is dealt with sympathetically. At the same time, there is acknowledgement of more radical theologies and their legacy which some Themelios readers might find generous on occasion.
Is this the book which students—Christian or otherwise—who are not reading theology or religious studies, would do well to buy as a reliable guide to Jesus? The answer has to be ‘yes’. In fact, such is the quality of the material that it will also put budding theologians on track.
This is easily illustrated by dipping into one chapter by each author. Chapter three, by Richard Burridge, examines Jesus in the Gospels. We are on solid ground, for this is the area of the author’s own, ground-breaking research. General readers, as well as being given guidance on what sort of books the gospels are, receive help in identifying what is distinctive about each Evangelist’s portrait of Jesus and each version of the passion account, and also in arranging the four views in one album on the one Jesus. At the same time, the theology student lost somewhere in the meanders of gospels criticism since the Enlightenment is taken to the heart of the question and given a vital sense of perspective.
Chapter seven, by Graham Gould, focuses on Jesus in early Christian worship. General readers discover the earliest Christian practice in relation to daily prayer, baptism or the Lord’s Supper, and the place that Jesus came to occupy, in relation to all three, as the object of worship. In all of this, for students following an introductory patristics course, Gould offers an interesting, thematic approach to the earliest primary sources studied (the apologist Justin, or documents like the Didache or the Apostolic Tradition).
The authors want their readers to relate to Jesus in the now by connecting with his story back then: their bottom line is, Jesus was and is hugely significant, so, what do you think? In this sense the book could be called evangelistic, because it directs its reader back to the NT and in so doing, suggests that not only should the reader make something of Jesus, but that Jesus might want to make something of the reader. The issue of Christian faith and experience, therefore, is never far from the surface.
If only that were more often the case in specialised theological literature! For effective communication of theology at a popular level, this book is a model to be emulated.