Unification News for September 1996
Book Report on The Jesus I Never Knew
Reviewed by Charles Kannal
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1995. ISBN: 0-310-38570-9. Hardcover $18.99
How well does the typical Christian understand Jesus? How well does the average Unificationist understand Jesus?
Writing sincerely, sensitively, and with the eyes of faith, Philip Yancey, editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine, sheds two millennia of presupposition about the nature and person of Jesus, and takes a fresh, insightful, startling look at the Jesus of the Bible.
Classical Christian doctrine stemming from early creeds affirms Jesus as the second person of the Holy Trinity. Striving to balance all parts of the Bible, it describes Jesus as fully God and fully man. The doctrine does not explain how this is so-human wisdom cannot be expected to comprehend the mystery of God.
But a nearly inevitable consequence of this doctrine has been to emphasize Jesus' divinity. "Jesus is God" overshadows the equally true statement "Jesus is man." Within its first few centuries Christianity lost touch with the human side of Jesus.
One reaction to this imbalance has been a modern liberal academic quest for the "historical" Jesus. But the critical method of analyzing Jesus as "merely" human is unsatisfactory to the believer whose life has been transformed by faith in Jesus.
In refreshing contrast to such approaches, Philip Yancey writes as a devout Christian who has done some serious soul-searching. He tackles the burning issue of Jesus' humanity in an intensely personal way.
Yancey points out that culturally and theologically, Christians have been inundated with glamorizations of Jesus. Thus today, we honor the infant Jesus who never cried, and a figure hanging on the cross who is Almighty God beyond suffering.
Yancey makes clear that such portrayals do not fit the gospel records. The Jesus we find in the Bible is in many ways a puzzle. He writes:
The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, "Get behind me, Satan!" He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company.
One day miracles seemed to flow out of Jesus; the next day his power was blocked by people's lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.
In the end, Yancey upholds the consensus of the Christian creeds. Yet the modern stereotyped image of Christ is far different from the God- Man he found on his revealing trek through the New Testament. The very real Jesus who emerges from the pages of the Bible is in some ways more comforting, in other ways more challenging and even terrifying than ever imagined. Yancey says, "I found the process of writing this book to be a great act of faith-strengthening. Jesus has rocked my own preconceptions and has made me ask hard questions about why those of us who bear his name don't do a better job of following him."
This book will assist contemporary Christians to faithfully and honestly encounter Jesus' humanity. In so doing, it will prepare them to better appreciate Rev. Moon's insights into Jesus' life and mission.
Charles Kannal is a 1996 graduate of the Unification Theological Seminary.
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