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Rediscovering Jesus, reviewed by Martin Mittelstadt

Capes, Reeves, and Richards turn from the Gospels to the Epistles. In his teaching, Paul describes his Jesus not through story, but by way of occasional letters to churches and delegates. Paul encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (a story more fully described in Acts) and begins immediate proclamation of Jesus. Paul generally produces prescriptive commentary on theological and praxis-oriented implications related to Jesus’ mission, be it salvation (confession of Jesus), the Lord’s Table (the hospitality of Jesus), or ecclesial concerns (the body of Christ). CRR complete the biblical tour with Hebrews’ Jesus, who receives enthronement as the priest-king; the Petrine Jesus, who models endurance for followers in exile; and the Apocalyptic Jesus, who initiates and will consummate God’s rule as the warrior lamb.

In part two, CRR employ Jesus’ question to refute six contemporary portraits of Jesus not aligned with the biblical Jesus. For the sake of clarity, I would have changed the order of presentation into three categories. I will go with my choice for order.

First, CRR address the academy and the quest(s) for the ever-elusive historical Jesus. CRR rehearse the battle from Schweitzer to the current day and lament the reduction of Jesus to a fine moral teacher stripped of his divinity and supernatural abilities. They also dismiss, not surprisingly, the Gnostic Jesus, a recent challenge – indeed a threat – to their orthodox Jesus.

Second, CRR challenge portraits of Jesus painted by competing religious groups. The authors consider the Muslim Jesus identified in the Koran as an inadequate articulation of the biblical Jesus and the dominant competition to the orthodox Jesus (and Christianity) in the current labyrinth of world religions. The Mormon Jesus serves less as a global threat, but as a sectarian example, possibly significant to the authors due to shifting and tenuous understandings of Mormons in the American Christian marketplace. Mormons seem to be in the midst of an identity crisis with some adherents striving to lead them toward greater political engagement and/or increased evangelicalization. CRR argue that the Mormon Jesus does not pass the orthodoxy test.

Third, the authors rehearse the convoluted history of the various roles played by the American Jesus. They examine the Jeffersonian Jesus, the competing National Rifle Association (NRA) vs. pacifistic Jesus, the feminine vs. masculine Jesus, Jesus CEO, and Jesus the superhero. CRR also review what they deem inferior though sometimes noble attempts to produce a reliable Jesus on the silver screen. CRR conclude that the American and Cinematic Jesuses are at best incomplete and at worst heterodox alongside the biblical Jesus.

When it’s all said and done, CRR reveal their Jesus; if asked, “who do you say that I am,” they answer “You are the Evangelical Jesus, an IVP Jesus” (my words). So how does their Jesus stack up against my Jesus? While I share basic impulses of the Evangelical tradition (though I typically resist that label), I find their biblical Jesus incomplete. Since I am a Lukan tour guide (i.e., Luke-Acts), I was disappointed that their analysis of Luke focuses almost exclusively on the Jesus of the Third Gospel and little on the Jesus of Luke’s second volume. Though the authors recognize the importance of resurrection and ascension for Jesus’ rule in Acts, they give minimal import to Luke’s opening words, which in my opinion is the thesis statement. If the Gospel of Luke introduces what “Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1), Jesus’ life continues in the words and deeds of his first followers and the new people of God. Peter, Barnabas, Stephen, Paul, and others extend Luke’s Spirit-filled paradigmatic Jesus. In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Christ plays [through Spirit-filled followers] in ten thousand places.”[2] Whether via passages such as Luke 4:18-19 and 7:22-23 on social justice or Luke 12:1-12 and21:12-15 on suffering, the people of God described in Acts continue the life of the Lukan Jesus through their ministry to the downtrodden and their boldness in the midst of trial and opposition. It seems that my Baptist friends might not be as familiar with the Charismatic/Pneumatic Jesus proclaimed by Pentecostals. I wonder what my Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Methodist, and Catholic friends might see from their respective pews.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2015

About the Author: Martin Mittelstadt, M.Div. (Providence Theological Seminary, 1990), Ph.D. (Marquette University, 2000), serves as Professor of Biblical Studies at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. He primarily makes his living in the Gospels and Luke-Acts (see his The Spirit and Suffering in Luke-Acts: Implications for a Pentecostal Pneumatology (Bloomsbury, 2004) and Reading Luke-Acts in the Pentecostal Tradition (CPT Press, 2010)). Ongoing interests tend to convergence around Pentecostal / Charismatic studies with a special attention to Pentecostal – Anabaptist relations (i.e. Mennocostalism), and spiritual formation. See his bio and publications on his Evangel University faculty page.

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