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Rediscovering Jesus, reviewed by Martin Mittelstadt

Concerning part two, particularly the chapters on the American Jesus and Cinematic/Hollywood Jesus, I find myself torn concerning the authors’ contemporary posture. I certainly agree with their assessment of the American Jesus, particularly their critique of a Right-Wing, gun-slinging Terminator Jesus (my paraphrase – hence my nervousness about being called an Evangelical). However, is it really possible for a film producer, writer, pastor, or, for that matter, anyone to discover and present the original and true biblical Jesus? And are biases necessarily wrong? Should we not cherish the diverse artistic and cultural portraits of Jesus? Should we not take pleasure in Handel’s Messiah or Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son as contributions to our learning of Christ? If so, is it also possible – even desirable – to grow in understanding and experience of “our Jesus” through films such as Gibson’s Passion of the Christ? And what about the use of Christ figures as portrayed in films like Babette’s Feast, Dead Man Walking, and Seven Pounds?[3] Finally, what might we say about multiple Asian or African contexts for the Jesus story? From such contexts, what are we to make of the myriad glocal Jesuses? Are we not all filled with biases, conscious or not, that contribute to our respective portraits of Jesus?

I am not calling the authors to condone an à la carte Jesus. However, I would suggest Luke Timothy Johnson’s Living Jesus as a supplemental volume to the work at hand.[4] Interestingly, this work is a follow-up to Johnson’s Real Jesus, a rebuttal to Jesus Seminar proponents and one with which CRR would find much agreement.[5] In the subsequent work, Johnson argues that a Living Jesus makes all the difference in the world; the living Jesus still speaks. In concert with his Catholic worldview, Johnson writes how we learn Jesus not only through Scripture, but through Tradition, the Saints (including Protestant exemplars), and the little ones (Mark 9:36-37). According to Johnson, the living Jesus speaks to us in a manner not that different than he spoke to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and their respective communities. If, in the words of James Dunn, first-century followers of Jesus recognized that “new situations call forth new confessions,”[6] what has changed? Like the Apostle John, I’m inclined to conclude that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books [and films] that would be written” (John 21:25 NIV). I remain committed to seeking Jesus through the Scriptures, our traditions, and my fellow believers as well as through music, art, and film. I’m optimistic that contemporary communities of Christ will wrestle with our individual and collective contexts and experience the ever-speaking biblical and true Jesus.[7]

Reviewed by Martin W. Mittelstadt



[1] David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2007).

[2] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (

[3] Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1997).

[4] Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel (New York: Harper Collins, 1999).

[5] Johnson, Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).

[6] James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (2d ed., Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 1977) 58.

[7] I first produced this review for presentation at the Greater Springfield (MO) Bible Conference on Oct 6, 2015. Rodney Reeves was the respondent.


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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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