I finished this book last night:
Jesus And His Earliest Followers (find it on amazon here)
by Greg Carey
Full disclosure: I worked with Greg at Lancaster Theological Seminary when I worked with their Leadership Now Program. I have sat in on his lectures, had lengthy theological discussions with him and still keep in touch on Facebook. BUT – that has nothing to do with how I feel about his work. The book is phenomenal. I wouldn’t put it on my blog if it wasn’t.
It has been a long time since I read a book of deep theological substance. I was called by a church, ordained and started full-time vocational ministry. My reading habits shifted from theology to practicality. My bookshelves are now piled high with books on stewardship, management, worship, ecclesiology and spiritual formation. And while those topics do interest me greatly, it was nice to use my brain in a different way.
I really like Greg’s approach to the New Testament. He balances Christian Faith with Christian History, salvation with humanity. He looks at the bible with a critical eye, but still has a humble faith that shines through his writing. He cares about preserving the history of the writings, but still making them relevant to the world that we are living today. Greg just had another book come out (The Gospel according to Luke: All Flesh Shall See God’s Salvation) that I really want to read as well.
Anytime you read the bible through a critical lens, you need to remember that the stories that are presented to us happened in a particular life and context, society and culture. This is also true for the writings and reflections of them. But they are there, they have been preserved and they are important in our lives. Our challenge today is to find a way to learn from them and make them relevant to the life that we are living. I try to do this when I preach – Greg does it a whole heck of a lot better than I ever will.
Here are a couple of quotes I pulled to give you an idea of the style and content.
“If contemporary Christians took seriously the possibility that those outside the boundaries of the church might hold the promise of renewal, if we ceased regarding ourselves as the source of salvation and the secular world as a potential threat, and if we emulated Jesus’ example in accepting the faith and the courage of those who live beyond conventional standards of purity, well, I can hardly imagine how things would look.”
“Taking the Gospels seriously requires us to rethink the image of Jesus as the innocent victim. The pietistic Jesus, the lamb led to the slaughter, the man who died because he loved “us” so much is largely alien to the passion accounts. Instead, Jesus stands in the line of martyrs and prophets, those killed on account of their faithful testimony. Early Christians remembered Jesus as a righteous victim, one crushed by imperial power for his resistance.”
“Perhaps Bonhoeffer is correct. Perhaps it is the case that Jesus took on human guilt but avoided sin. I have sketched my reservations concerning this view. However, an “innocent” Jesus does not overpower sin. A righteous Jesus does. The world needs less innocence and more righteousness.”