[We have not yet finished reading, so this post is not intended to be a thorough review.]
Yancey's thesis in the book is apparently his "rediscovery" of Jesus. His statement, "The Jesus I got to know in writing this book is very different from the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school. In some ways He is more comforting: in some ways more terrifying," informs us that reading this book will be an account of his voyage of discovery. However, as Uni and I read aloud each morning from the book, we are not often startled by Yancey's claims. Often we have made similar discoveries with having come from a similar background. So our reaction to Yancey is a simple "Yes!" or "Amen." We have read and compared the four Gospels many times and it seems that every reading adds details to our mental portrait of Jesus.
I believe that the typical picture of Jesus in most people's minds is incomplete, whether or not they claim to be His followers. In my experience I have found that a major factor is ignorance of what the Bible itself, especially the four Gospels, says about Him. For many the Gospels remain unread or only cursorily read; most of their knowledge comes from secondary sources -- sermons, devotional studies, books claiming to give us the final word on who He was or is.
One incident that spurred me to write this post was a guest interview on The Daily Show (7/17/2013) with the author of a new book about Jesus. During the interview the author explained about how we really need to know the context in which Jesus lived in order to really understand Him; he talked much about Jesus as a man. At first Uni and I found ourselves in agreement but I could almost predict what was coming: Jesus is only a man! Much of what was written about Him contains moral or spiritual truth, but isn't really fact. The host was practically drooling with enthusiasm over this new portrait of Jesus, who was not at all similar to the ghost-like Jesus that he had heard of in his youth.
Well, yes, of course. If our mental portrait of Jesus is of some surreal spiritual being, we might be attracted to this rugged non-conformist portrayed by many modern books. Who wouldn't be? The problem is that neither picture is complete. It seems that many feel that they have to choose one or the other.
I believe that orthodox and evangelical Christianity has often overemphasized Christ as deity while ignoring His humanity. We may fail to see that. He lived His life on earth as a man and looked little different from the other Middle Eastern Jews He associated with (although Uni believes He probably looked like our friend Ahmed, a dark handsome Saudi Arabian). He did not wear a halo. He did not talk in King James' English or in red letters.
Our one-sided picture is not a new thing invented by 20th century fundamentalist Christians. As Yancey notes, "The Apostles' Creed hustles through Jesus' life in one paragraph, beginning with His birth and skipping immediately to His death ..."
But Jesus' contemporaries saw Him as a man. That's what made His claims so scandalous. It was not a theophany - a ghost-like divine character that said things like:
"You have heard that it was said (i.e., in the Mosaic Law) ... but I tell you ... " ( Matthew 5:21, 22, 33, 34, etc.).
"... anyone of you who doesn't say goodbye to all his possessions is not able to be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
"... before Abraham came to be, I am" (John 8:58).
"... no one comes to the Father, except through Me" (John 14:6).
It wasn't simply His radical political statements that got Him into trouble; it was His claims to authority, even deity. His opponents understood Him better than many of our modern day "authorities."
"For this reason then, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also saying God was His own Father, making Himself equal with God' (John 5:18).
They caught on! We can't have Jesus as only a man no matter how we may admire Him. He didn't leave His contemporaries that option. If we accept His humanity, His manhood, then we also have to accept His claims. Either that or reject Him altogether.