Just in time for the Christmas season, the Washington Post's "Book World" editor Ron Charles gave readers of the December 2 Style section front page a look at "Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter With the Gospels."
Of course the encounter in question is that of literary critic Mary Gordon, a "liberal, feminist intellectual" who happens to be Catholic, is not a trained scriptural scholar, and admits to having "never actually read the full Gospel" prior to undertaking her "Reading Jesus" project.
"But off she goes anyhow, girded only by her considerable intelligence and disarming sincerity, determined to look squarely at the Gospels, how she reads them and how she maintains what she calls her 'hopeful faith,'" Charles notes approvingly, adding that Gordon's professed disinterest in converting readers or making doctrinal claims is:
... a welcome promise, and she keeps it in this brisk, provocative survey of the major events and statements of Jesus's life. Though far too cursory to work as an introduction to the Gospels, "Reading Jesus" should appeal to anyone in that great multitude of thoughtful or lapsed Christians who feels the Scriptures growing stale and ossified, anyone who wants to wrestle with the uncomfortable problems and irreconcilable paradoxes of the New Testament.
Of course, lots of sincere, smart people can write books about the Bible, but that doesn't necessarily merit front page real estate on the Style section of the Post, particularly when the author in question is a self-professed amateur and her books release is ancient history, having hit bookshelves five weeks ago (October 27).
Then again, it seems Gordon's decidedly unorthodox view of Jesus Christ is what charmed the fiction editor of Post's Book World into publishing his review 23 days before Christmas. Aside from Charles's remark that those who think the Bible is "stale and ossified" would find Gordon's book appealing, the Post reviewer went on to applaud some of Gordon's wacky interpretations of Jesus's behavior as documented in the gospel accounts:
[U]sually she manages to recast the Gospel stories in fresh, surprising ways. After describing Mary washing Jesus's feet and drying them with her hair, Gordon writes plainly: "This is a shocking story. . . . It is the most purely sensual moment in the Gospels."
At other times, she focuses intensely on those strange, weirder stories that complicate the pastel portrait of "Jesus Loves Me This I Know." What on Earth is He doing cursing a barren fig tree to death? "We might wish that Jesus were more like Santa Claus, more Candide than Christ," Gordon writes, but this is the story we have before us: "The powerful man, hungry, using his power like a frustrated child. Jesus, the child tyrant. Jesus, the bully of the world. Jesus, the failure."
It doesn't seem to occur to Charles that the "pastel portrait" may itself be a distorted cultural view of Christ from popular media, not something Christians have historically believed or the church taught.
What's more, given the paper's attention to this religious niche topic, it's worth asking why Book World hasn't give any ink to christological works that are penned by veteran students of Scripture with a decidedly orthodox take on the person and work of Christ.
For example, John MacArthur, a California evangelical pastor with 40 years experience in the pulpit released a book geared to general audiences back on July 28 entitled, "The Jesus You Can't Ignore: What You Must Learn From the Bold Confrontations of Christ."
Here's how Amazon.com's product description summed it up:
Meek and mild. Politically correct. A great teacher. These are the popular depictions of Jesus. But they aren't the complete picture. Maybe because it's uncomfortable, or maybe because it's inconvenient, Christians and non-Christians alike are overlooking the fierceness of the Savior, His passionate mission to make the Gospel clear and bring people into the Kingdom of God. A mission that required he sometimes raise his voice and sometimes raise a whip.
In the much-needed message in The Jesus You Can't Ignore, renowned Bible teacher and best-selling author John MacArthur reintroduces the compelling and often unsettling passion of Jesus' ministry. MacArthur points to the picture of the real Jesus the world is so eager to gloss over. And he calls readers to emulate Jesus' commitment to further the kingdom by confronting lies and protecting the truth of God.
In other words, MacArthur's is a book that could challenge those who find Jesus "stale and ossified" or who have a "pastel portrait" of the Christ.
Even so, "The Jesus You Can't Ignore," published three months before Gordon's book hit store shelves, was ignored by the Post's book reviewers, as searches of the Post Web site and Nexis confirm.