The Jesus I Never Knew (by Philip Yancey)

I have very much appreciated Philip Yancey’s books over the past fifteen years or so, and have most of them on our shelves. He is an American Christian journalist, who grew up in a fundamentalist environment but realised, as a teen, how unpleasant some of the teaching and practices were. He came to a new, relationship-based faith and in his writing explores many issues that believers struggle with. I’ve started re-reading Yancey’s books, some of which I have not picked up for a long time.

In ‘The Jesus I never knew’, which I last read in 2007, he decides to look at Jesus from the perspective of the first century, reading the Gospels as if for the first time, looking at different translations, and also different movie portrayals to try to build up a realistic picture of who it is that we follow, rather than the inaccurate images so often portrayed by the media, and even, for several centuries, by many Christian artists.

The first section of the book looks at the Jesus the author thought he knew, and then goes back to the Jewish background and roots, and the environment where Jesus grew up. We don’t know a great deal about his childhood from the Bible, other than one important incident when he was twelve; but from other historic documents a reasonable picture of the life of a carpenter can be built up. The author looks at the start of Jesus’ ministry, too, when he was thirty years old, including the temptations in the desert and what they would have meant.

The middle section examines the question of why Jesus came to earth at all. He points to the Beatitudes, how Jesus turned upside-down many of the precepts and sayings that the people of his time would have expected, and shows us just how offensive the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ would have been to his audience. We who have grown up hearing and reading the Scriptures cannot comprehend what much of his message would have meant to those around him.

The Crucifixion and Resurrection are covered in some depth, following discussion of Jesus’ miracles and what they would have meant. Inevitably some of what he writes is his own ideas and opinions, but even though I had read this before, I found much to think about, and gained some different insights about Jesus’ life and ministry.

The last section begins with the Ascension, when Jesus returned to heaven, and what he left behind. Looked at in the light of the rest of the book, there is, again, much to ponder. I don’t know that I will keep all this in mind, but may well refer to it again when discussing this topic. The style is straightforward, referencing other writers (such as CS Lewis) from time to time, and very readable.

The book is meant for Christians, or for those interested in finding out who Jesus was and is. A measure of faith is important; the author assumes the existence of God and the veracity of the Gospel accounts, while acknowledging that they were written by human observers and writers, who inevitably used their own perspectives on recent events.

Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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