Jesus: A Theography
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
I think it is only right to warn you not to read this book before going to bed – here’s why:
I was very happy to receive my copy of Jesus A Theography (2012 — Thomas Nelson) via the mail. I had pre-ordered it months before and was glad that it had finally arrived. One reason for my happiness was that I had read a previous collaboration by Sweet and Viola called Jesus Manifesto, an important book about restoring Christ to supremacy and sovereignty in the church, and I wanted to compare the two books. So, as is my habit, I set aside a fair amount of time to read before going to bed, and Jesus a Theography was the book of choice. Mistake. Before I read to page 50 my heart was pounding so hard that I had to get up, go for a walk, pray, think and try to settle down. It was as though the book were digitalis, a medicine used to stimulate the heart. I was wide awake as a result reading Jesus A Theography and knew that sleep was not going to be possible for quite a while.
How did this happen? Well, I was clearly unprepared for the power of the premise upon which Jesus a Theography is based, which is that Jesus is the subject of all scripture, not just the Prophets and Psalms of the First (Old) Testament, and the Gospels of the Second (New) Testament. In Jesus A Theography the intention of authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola is to show ”how the Jesus story recapitulates and replays major biblical dramas and narratives of the Hebrew scriptures,” and that, “Jesus repeats, embodies, fulfills and completes the story of Israel in Himself.” “Reading Scripture christologically turns Bible reading from two dimensions into 3-D. It transforms it from black-and-white into high-definition Technicolor. ” The result of this approach is super stimulating reading – caffeine for your eyes.
Sweet and Viola accomplish their goal in Jesus A Theography. They have produced a book that offers the reader a way to have an Omni Theater experience when reading about the life of Jesus — which resulted in my pounding heart. Consider this as fair warning.
A Christological point of view of scripture is also one that requires scrupulous scholarship. The authors state in the introduction, “[We] are not writing this book for scholars but for the general Christian population. At the same time, we have provided endnotes for the benefit of scholars, academicians, and curious minds who wish to see the sources that have influenced some of our conclusions and delve into them deeper.” I appreciate all those endnotes, as I am among the curious. Also extremely helpful is the Appendix which lists The Post-Apostolic Witnesses; those who, in their body of work, have come to the same conclusion about Jesus and the scriptures as Sweet and Viola. These are old friends such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, Chrysostom, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, and Mears. Current teachers, preachers, philosophers and writers are also listed, including N.T. Wright, J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, John Piper and Norman Geisler, and many others
The research and resources that support Jesus A Theography are impressive and extensive, and they make this portrait of Jesus particularly beneficial to inquisitive folks, but what is so profoundly moving about the book is the sheer beauty of the Jesus story as it appears in the pages of Jesus A Theography. The book’s setting takes us from Christ Before Time to The Return of the King, and features events of Christ’s life told with so much power that there were moments where I had to cover my eyes and say with David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, I can’t take it in.” (Ps 139:6)
Here is an example:
“Jesus Christ had finished all thing before He created all things. This is perhaps one of the most glorious things Jesus accomplished before creation, but it may be the least reflected upon. Imagine a builder standing in front of an empty lot, saying, ‘What a beautiful house I have constructed.’ But there is nothing there. Only the Lord can say that His plans in the Son were finished in eternity before they came to pass in history. He completed the masterpiece before he ever painted it.
“How can this be? It is because time exists in Christ. Paul told us that in Christ, ‘all things hold together.’ (Col 1:17 NIV) That includes creation itself, which includes time.”
“His works were finished from the foundation of the world.” (Heb 4:3 NASB)
As Christians we know that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb, slain for the sins of the world – but do we love this Lamb? Have we taken Him into our home and loved Him like a family member? Here is a 3-D commentary on that truth from Jesus A Theography?
“[Thousands] of lambs were needed by Jewish families at Passover and other religious rituals. One of the most widely observed of Jewish holidays, Passover required a lamb to be sacrificed for every family that could afford it. All the lambs were ritually killed at the same time in the same place. But before they were slaughtered, each lamb was required to be a pet in the family for at least four days.
“So the day after the final Sabbath before Passover, shepherds from the Bethlehem hills drove thousands of lambs into Jerusalem, where they were taken in by Jewish families for at least [four] days and treated as members of the family. Before sacrificing the lamb, the Jewish priest would ask, ‘Do you love this lamb?’ If the family didn’t love the lamb, there would be no sacrifice. When Jesus asked Peter three times, ‘Do you love Me?’ He affirmed His identity as the sacrificial Lamb of God. When we love Jesus, we receive the gift of His sacrifice — redemption from death and a resurrected life.”
Every single page in Jesus A Theography turns the spotlight fully on Jesus: his divinity and humanity, his works and purposes — all are breathtakingly showcased throughout the book. So, you are now aware to be prepared to deal with a fully awakened and pounding heart when you read Jesus A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. You might lose a little sleep, but you won’t regret it.