“In fact, no other figure has so extensively crossed the cultural divisions of humanity and found a place in so many diverse cultural contexts.”
Countless molds of Jesus Christ have been formed in film, art, writing, oral tradition, and other communication. In the 2000 years since he walked the earth, social versions of Jesus have multiplied with great variety. While some of these representations are merely cultural self-identifications with the person of Jesus, many others are doctrinally errant. Where, if it exists, is the firm foundation for examining the actual human being and his real message? How can we know the Bible is historically accurate? And, if we do accept the Gospel accounts, what are they actually telling us?
Christian scholar, author, and theologian Richard Bauckham contributes a volume answering these questions to the Oxford University Press series, Very Short Introductions. For curious potential believers—or even those pressed for research time—Jesus: A Very Short Introduction provides a concise overview of the validity of the four traditional Gospels, and also the meat of their testimony about the person of Jesus Christ.
Without giving everything away, it can be said that Bauckham presents several sides to arguments surrounding Jesus, both in the Jewish world of his time and the scholarly debates present in ours. For instance, there exist additional gospels that some claim hold equal validity. Others believe the traditional Gospels less trustworthy in light of the oral fashion they continued in before publication: it is claimed by form critics that this was a constantly morphing, folkloric vehicle. Others see Jesus and his message as separate and superior to the God of the Old Testament—the introductory book includes multiple views in order to discount ones without logical or evidential standing and point to the most reliable sources.
Other features this book contains are interesting facts about Jesus’ Jewish world—religious parties, etymology about key words of Jesus’ and translation, and social background that ties into parables. Bauckham paints a portrait of Christ’s teaching style, and how his messages both align with Jewish prophecy and varied from Jewish expectations based on those prophecies.
The inherent message in all these proofs, Jesus’, speaks for itself in the Gospels: there is no middle road, if we take Christ at his word. Either someone will accept his identity as God and their own position in his kingdom, or separately attempt to define their own spiritual identity.
Bauckham ends with this quote about the incarnation, which summarizes Christ’s offer of grace and the crux of Christianity quite well:
“ Incarnation means that God has shared in the human plight even at its most extreme in order that he might deliver people from that plight. The Gospels read as narratives of incarnation are at the heart of historic Christian faith.”
Rather than being primarily an evangelical read, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction is more aptly defined as a historical crash course in Jesus and the Christian faith. It outlines the attitudes and nature of the kingdom of God based on its ruler’s own teachings found in reliable, eyewitness accounts. That being said, I think it absolutely can be used in this light as an evangelical or explanatory tool. It’s simple, concise, and presents several ideas people may be contemplating as they approach the Bible.
It’s also quite short: I was able to finish it in a day. So why not brush up on your Gospel knowledge?
What’s the latest thing you’ve read? Let me know in the comments! 🙂