Jared Wilson knows how to crack a joke. Never heard of him? Go watch. Then come back.
Needless to say, Jared is not your standard, everyday, run of the mill, grits and butter sort of preacher/teacher. He’s the former pastor of Element, a missional church in Nashville, as well as a blogger over at The Gospel Driven Church. And now, with the publishing of his first book, Jared is a first-class author. How do I qualify this? I mean, come on, how many authors of what is essentially a systematic theology include references to Strong Bad, Die Hard, The Kid, My Buddy, and the Grateful Dead? I mean besides Mark Driscoll, of course. Or Todd Bentley. If he ever decided to write a systematic theology. Which would probably look pretty wild.
The qualification for my above assertion comes in Jared’s systematic presentation of the biblical claims about Christ. Unlike so many who have remade Christ to fit their message, Jared’s innovation only extends as far as the presentation. The Christ of the Gospels is examined from twelve different perspectives (shepherd, promise, sacrifice, etc). As each is considered, a full picture of Christ’s message and mission for His followers comes into view.
The picture of Christ that Jared paints is robustly biblical with some hints of Reformed theology (which, in my view, makes it even more robustly biblical). NT Wright and George Ladd are definitely influences here, the former informing Jared’s thoughts concerning Christ’s mission and the latter shaping his view of the kingdom of God.
In the intro, Jared sets us up by surveying Christianity in America. Each subsequent movement, whether it be the prosperity gospel, the altar call gospel, or the guru gospel, has rewritten Christ to fit their message. As such, Christians that wish to proclaim the true Christ must know Who they are serving in the midst of so many counterfeits. Enter this book.
The book could be a mash-up of Driscoll’s Death by Love and Phillip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew (you can guess which of those two I recommend). This is definitely theology leading application. I’ll highlight what I enjoyed the most, and then talk about a couple potential misfires.
Jared is at home talking about Christ. Each chapter opens with an examination of the historical background surrounding that aspect of the Savior’s ministry. Thus, the chapter on Christ as shepherd examines what it meant to be a shepherd, or the chapter on Jesus as the promise looks at the Messianic expectations of first century Judaism (Messiah was to come in the wilderness, etc.). After conducting this initial foray into the history behind the theology, Jared examines the text of the Gospels, showing just how radical this Jesus was.
The conclusions he comes to, although not shocking to any orthodox believer, are still penetrating for us American Christians who have never known the kingdom life that Christ talked about in the Beatitudes: Jesus came to bring the reality of God’s kingdom to earth. We’re firmly in already/not yet territory here, which is refreshing to find serious theology at the heart of such a radical presentation of Christ.
His application is taken directly from Christ’s person and work; this isn’t nebulous application that gets pulled out of the sky somewhere. It’s firmly theological, and shows our obligation in light of Christ’s kingship and sacrifice. I was very much reminded of Death by Love, where Mark Driscoll examines the different pastoral applications of Christ’s work on the Cross. This is similar, but expands the examination and application a bit.
His fresh way of writing also helps me understand theology. For instance, when we say that Christ was all God and all man, what we’re saying is that He was fully God and really a man. He had BO, struggled with sexual temptation, etc. Or the way in which God’s kingdom is explained will be helpful for those who are struggling with an overworked version of eschatology.
There’s perhaps two misfires, and they’re relatively minor… so I’m expecting a second edition. Planning on writing one, right Jared? He does well to fill in footnotes with all kinds of Scripture references; provides good backup for the rest of his arguments. What isn’t so common are the footnotes that support his assertions concerning early Jewish life and other historical background. I remember when the reformed evangelical community lambasted Rob Bell for not providing proof for his points in Velvet Elvis concerning the Judaism of the OT and NT. I thought about this as I was reading… a bunch of backup citations will help those who are doubtful, especially those coming from a Jewish background. A second edition of Jared’s book should include such footnotes.
Also, some of Jared’s thoughts concerning the applications of Christ’s kingdom were too abstract for me. He talks about the “already” gradually expanding into the “not yet”. Partially because I’m weary of a Gospel that takes on more than Scripture mandates, and partially because I’m just too abstract for my own good, I would want to see more clarification of what our part in the ministry of reconciliation is. Are we part of God’s redemption of Creation? How does that fit into Romans 8:19-23? Or are we part of His reconciliation between God and man alone, and He will redeem Creation Himself at His coming? These are all questions that could be worked out in a conversation, and I invite Jared to respond with what this would practically look like.
To summarize: Jared writes a great overview of the biblical Christ. Useful to have before stepping into Systematic Theology at school, or before trying to explain the Gospel’s implications to a new convert. Or a congregation. Very practical and powerful; it’ll likely be our helper to examine Christ at my church’s small group this upcoming fall. There are other books that will dig deeper, but as a popular introduction to Christ I can’t think of a better book.