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Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic… or just Freaking Awesome? A review

January 14, 2016

I’ve been listening to the Homebrewed Christianity podcast for some years now. The HBC format is fairly simple, generally consisting of an interview with an author or theologian and discussing their particular brand of theology. The interviews can get fairly technical, but they’re meant to be accessible for anyone who likes discussing ideas. The idea is that listeners are given the ingredients to brew their own theologies. It’s more a discussion at the local pub with your uni mates than it is a lecture. The hosts of the show consider the interviews as a chance to ‘nerd out with your geek out.’ That sums it up perfectly.

There are a few different shows and formats in the HBC ecosystem, but the latest addition is a line of print books published by Fortress Press. The first of these books, written by the HBC host Tripp Fuller,  was published in November 2015 and is entitled Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic… Or Awesome?

This book gives an overview of how issues involved with the academic study of Jesus in the twenty-first century. It begins with a chapter discussing the possibility of studying Jesus, and, drawing on the work of Søren Kierkegaard, covers the critical roles of faith and skepticism in doing Christology.

The second chapter discusses the historical Jesus—a homeless Jew who lived in the first century—and the context in which he lived. There’s also a discussion of the possibility of saying anything definitive about Jesus from the twenty-first century and some of the problems that invariably pop up when we do. The third chapter is about the message Jesus taught about his Kingdom, although Fuller argues that that term isn’t particularly useful anymore, and modifies the word to ‘Kin-dom’ to highlight the filial aspect of those in God’s family.

The fourth chapter was an excellent summary of the four biblical gospels and the differences between them. I’ve been studying the Bible formally (in an academic sense) for many years now, and there’s nothing here that’s particularly new, but the summary was full of insights that have already borne fruit in my preaching a week after reading the book! There’s a rather important point to this chapter as well—if we can have four biblical views of Jesus that differ so much in both the details and overall picture of what he was about, there must be some room to allow different views of Jesus to propagate in the church today.

The fifth chapter is about the incarnation. It uses the work of Anselm and Luther to introduce some of the more philosophical and theological topics in Christology, like the incarnation and atonement theory. I’m not sure if this approach has more explanatory power than anything else I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure it’s particularly novel, but it was able to skirt around the debates and metaphysics of the fourth and fifth centuries, which I’m rather grateful for. The discussion of cooties and their source has been invaluable—I too agree that they derive from the cootie gland, an anatomical feature specific to girls.

The next two chapters compare the high and low trajectories of Christology. Rather than settling on one as the preferred approach, Fuller sees value in each and is content to allow the reader to make up their own mind. The final chapter returns to the discussion of faith and skepticism begun in the first chapter and looks ahead to the sort of faith and practice that will be needed in the centuries to come.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, just as I do the podcast and for the same reasons. Whilst Fuller has his own conclusions that he’s rather fond of, and which he’s keen to spruik from time to time, he’s more interested in giving the reader the tools they need to work out what they believe in the context of their own journey and tradition. Like the podcast, the book has the feel of a late-night bull session at which ideas are played with rather than imparted as facts to be assimilated in a lecture. This conversation feel is heightened by four characters in the text who pop up in sidebars rather frequently to add their own two-cents to the discussion. I thought this would be rather annoying after the first few pages, but it actually gives the reader the feeling they’re actually in a pub doing theology.

Probably the one thing I was disappointed in was the physical printing of the book. I happened to get a drop of water on one page and the ink actually smudged, like it had been printed by the cheap bubble-jet printer on my desk at home. This is only a minor thing, but I would suggest that readers are very careful if they want to read this in the bath!

This book would work very well in a reading group. I had originally hoped I could use it for a group study in my church, but I’m not sure it would be appropriate for that particular group. That said, I will be mining this book for illustrations and explanations for my preaching for years. The ideal reader is a person for whom the questions are more important than the answers, and for whom the journey is more important than the destination. Complex concepts are explained well, but the book hasn’t been dumbed down—you need to be able to think in abstract terms. This quote from chapter one really sets up and sums up the book:

If your Christology isn’t weird, you’re doing it wrong. The church’s theological confessions about Christ are not suddenly embarrassing; they always have been. Join the parade! It’s not like it takes a pluralistic culture informed by science to realize that identifying a dead homeless Jew as the Son of the living God is absurd. It is. Let’s own it. But instead of just regurgitating it without reflection and throwing it at our befuddled neighbors as a trilemma with eternal consequences, let’s let the weirdness seep into our own imaginations.

All in all, this was a good book that I’m going to be sharing with the theonerds in my life. I got my copy from the Book Depository, but I believe it’s also available from Amazon and it can also be purchased directly from Homebrewed Christianity.

 

 

 

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