Good Religious Studies Book Review Example
Book Review: The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus
The modern view of Jesus Christ is not one point of view but many depending on the beliefs of an individual, their culture, and where they born and raised. Some people believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior like Evangelical Christians while others admire and respect Jesus as a prophet of the Lord like in the Islamic tradition. Atheists will tell that the religious Jesus never existed and history will tell us nothing about such person; while, on the other hand, agnostics will tell you they just do not know. I can recommend the book for any of the above who are seriously curious about the historical and theological Jesus Christ. The reason is not because the information in the book is good knowledge to have, but because the design of the book allows access to reliable background material to better understand theories and mainstream discussions on the topic.
One of the quotes introducing the first chapter is from David Hay “It may be necessary to live with uncertainty as an alternative to living with a closed mind.” I interpreted the quote to be an instruction on how to read all the chapters. After finishing the book, I still feel my interpretation of the David Hay quote as directions on how to read the book is realistic and good advice. The reader can add interpretations that add an emotional charge to the information, although I do not believe that was the author’s intention at all. The book is very interesting from the beginning to the end because, as one can tell from the title, two opposing perspectives are addressed, the historical Christ versus the theological Jesus. The two concepts are rarely explored together, so Allison needs to be congratulated for offering a much needed balanced discussion. The conversation is much needed to add depth to the superficial debates and conversations that can overtake useful discussion of who Jesus may have been and how Jesus influences modern day faith.
The second section is based upon the questions that have answers offered from various sources with great confidence; although the answers are very different and lead to disputes and sometimes heated discussions. The first part of this section is especially interesting “How much history does theology require?” (p. 32). Theology is not the faith a person maintains, but the study of faith, religious practices and the nature of God. The writings led me to think mainly about my personal faith and whether I really need to know the historically real Jesus at all, in order to maintain my private faith and how I apply my beliefs.
The third section is about how to proceed with common sense by acquiring the appropriate approaches to answer the appropriate questions. I use common sense to describe the types of professional research and the proper filters to use when thinking, writing and studying Jesus Christ. The chapters in third section are written in a direct, non-judgmental style. The book as a whole is written in a serious tone that is informal and never condescending to the reader.
The fourth and the final section attempts to reach some conclusion from the book’s previous discussion. Allison emphasizes the importance keeping in mind the historical Jesus when considering subjects in Eschatology (the study of final events) and Christology the study of the words of Christ). I particularly enjoyed his warning that we cannot know the intent of Christ when he spoke particular words, because we were not there to hear him speak. And we do not have the capability to ask him to explain his intent. The point is that no one can know the intent no matter how strongly they insist that they know exactly what Christ was talking about, his meaning, and his intent. The subsection is titled “Context is Gone for Good” because the context cannot be known and therefore cannot be recreated (p. 101). For example, what seems perfectly obvious to some (like Christ’s pacifism) is not the same interpretation that other have from the same text. Allison points out the complexity of the Sermon on the Mount and the difficulties in unraveling meaning that everyone trying to interpret the sermon must keep in mind.
The problem with understanding the Jesus as a man, rabbi, spiritual leader, or prophet is that the writings available are from about 150 to 200 years after his death. The Gospels are the books in the Bible that some say are written, some contend, by the apostles of Jesus - Luke, Matthew, Mark and John, but the timing and the degree of education have a bearing on deciding if it were possible for his apostles to write the chapters. The Gospels all have something to say about his teachings and some things about his character are listed, but each of the Gospels presents a different dimension his personality and characteristics. Therefore no clear picture of the personality and the human being called Jesus is available.
The four apostilistic Bible chapters all have a different take on the essence of Jesus; the purpose of the book by Allison is to remind us to be realistic about the meaning we can gain from descriptions in the Bible. For example, when considering the King James Version of the Bible as a whole, two of the extremes that are superficial in nature but often the basis for our Sunday school or weekly sermon are that the New Testament is about a peace-loving man and for the American evangelicals the Old Testament can lead us to expect rapture at some unknown future date. The two extremes do not allow people on either side to find common ground, but that is exactly what needs to be found so that discussions can take place between the two.
The book can best used as a resource for reminding ourselves not to become carried away with what we want to believe and apply that to the historical Jesus or the theological Christ. The book is a good resource to keep on one’s bookshelf because the author argues, the historical can add positively to our knowledge of the theological Christ. The capability of the author to merge discussions of the historical factors with theology is a very good idea that seems daunting. The author manages to write the book in a straight-forward language that works very well. The book is very good at adding knowledge about a time and subject that are crucial to religious studies. Some of the points make sense during different aspects of our lives. For example, writing a scholarly work should require careful control so that our personal biases are not integrated into work that is intended for an audience of peers.
The final chapter containing Allison’s personal thoughts includes a discussion of love as the center of the universe that I found to be very comforting. Although this brief review did not discuss the ideas of evil, suffering, and wickedness as Allison approaches the subject, I mention them here to show the depth and breadth of a book that is relatively short to contain so many intricate and complex issues. The book is suitable for pastors, students, or spiritually minded readers who will all find a different reason for appreciating the book. I think it is a good book for a resource that will be used again and again so I recommend it. The book is short but highly satisfying.
Allen, Jr., Dale C. (2009). The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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