There are two things that are immediately striking about the book Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012). The first is the sheer scope of the work. While some books clearly are the product of a two week writing break, others earn to be called a “labor of love,” or earn the phrase, “represents the culmination of a lifetime of ministry.” This book fits into the latter camp and is the product of two authors who have spent untold hours in deep study of God’s word.
As a reviewer who prizes “rich text;” this is one of the richest books I have ever read, and any critical remarks I might make should be seen in the light of what is generally my highest recommendation. Truth be told, I have read about two thirds of this book out loud with my oldest son. While it slowed the reading time, it allowed me to process the material more fully, at the rate of half-a-chapter per night. It also enhanced my appreciation of the final chapters which I read normally. Jesus is definitely a book that delivers your money’s worth. You can’t read this book and not have a clearer picture of the Bible’s grand narrative.
The second thing that is immediately striking is the word theography in the title. The idea is that in trying to present the over-arching story of the Bible, most things printed are biography moving, as the authors say, “from womb to tomb.” The idea here is to look at Christ before and after the incarnation. This is an ambitious goal, and the two chapters most representative of this ambition were the only ones that disappointed, though I am continually interested in accessing books which deal with Christ before the manger — the pre-incarnate Christ — and deal with what the second person of the Trinity was doing before that Bethlehem morning. Ditto Christ’s present activity seated at the right hand of God.
This is a small matter however in a book where each page is full of illuminations, and in particular comparison passages where one aspect of what the writers call The First Testament is unmistakably linked to another in The Second Testament. Sometimes the insights simply involve a different way of expressing a familiar dichotomy; thus Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial is referenced as “Judas’ kiss and Peter’s kiss-off.”
There is also a trade off between the benefit of having two people craft the book who are already established and respected authors, and the tendency of the book to repeat itself in many places. Perhaps readers like me simply need to have some truths drilled in a little deeper.
The sixteen chapters of Jesus: A Theography break down the Christ story into chronological sections emphasizing the spiritual significance of every aspect of His life and ministry. This is truly a book like no other. I’ve seen some dissent online concerning the use of selective Bible translations to make a certain point fit, but we followed up in various texts from the various footnotes — there are 1,835 of them — and don’t feel that any verses were overly stretched to make a point. The authors have also gone out of their way to make dogmatic statements on any theological point which is contentious, making this a book for all Christian readers.
…To someone who mostly reads Christian fiction, I suspect that all doctrinal books look alike, but Jesus: A Theography is a volume like no other. This definitely fits in my top ten list of books I would want to be stranded on an island with. While not every reader will agree with every point this is definitely a book worth owning, underlining and filling with bookmarks.
An excerpt from the book appears here at Christianity 201.
Jesus: A Theography is a book I truly wanted to read. When no review copy was forthcoming by the publisher after several requests, I purchased this copy with real money. TNI, you owe me one!